As rain pounded the dark brown soil, former female circumcisers of Monduli District waded into the mud soaked Nanja section of Lepurko village, to surrender their work tools to the Arusha Regional Administrators.
They were 20 of them, all elderly women who had turned up at the open air ceremony to mark the ‘White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood’ an event which was observed at Regional level in Sepeko ward of Monduli District.
“We have discovered that practicing female genital mutilation not only risked our daughters’ lives through excessive bleeding, but also exposed them to other infectious diseases such as HIV-Aids because a single razor normally used to operate up to ten girls at a time,” said the Maasai ladies who apparently couldn’t speak in Swahili, so their speech had to be translated by one Margaret Konga.
Some local residents who braved the rain to turn up at the event were however not quite sure; “These ladies charge Tsh. 10,000 to ‘circumcise’ one girl and usually a single ‘operator’ handles between 10 and 20 girls at a session, it is too lucrative a trade to be ditched easily,” they observed.
The Regional Commissioner, Isidori Shirima, who was the guest of honor at the occasion made a comment on that: “Maasai are always people of honor who strictly abide to their vows and what these ladies have just taken here are also vows that even ‘Engai’ (God) has witnessed,” he said warning that like all other traditional oaths, going against them could spell disaster.
The retired female circumcisers appealed to local leaders to find them alternative income generating occupations so as not to be tempted again with the ‘barbaric practice!’
A team of about 15 Maasai youths (Morans) also declared openly never to marry ‘circumcised’ women.
They also ‘promised’ to abandon polygamous marriages saying, “Our fathers used to marry up to 15 wives, but this made them vulnerable to infectious sexually transmitted diseases. We have also learned that ‘Biitia’ (Aids) is not a disease for just the ‘Waswahili’ (Non-Maasai people) but can also affect and kill us as well!”
The regional ceremony to mark the ‘White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood’, was organized by the Arusha-based, Health Integrated Multi-Sectoral Services. This was the second time for the WRA to be observed in Arusha. Last year the event was launched in the region at the Sheikh Amri Abeid Stadium within the Municipality.
Speaking at the function, Mackrine Shao-Rumanyika the HIMS director and Regional contact person for the National White Ribbon Alliance explained that Female Genital Mutilation practices, HIV-Aids, Malaria and long distances to health centers in rural areas were major causes of both Mother and Child mortality in Tanzania with poor families being more susceptible.
The Monduli District Medical Officer, Zaitun Kivuyo said while more than 90 percent of expectant mothers in the area report for pre-delivery clinical check-ups, most of them still prefer to give birth at home.
“Child births comes suddenly and when that happens, women in remote parts can not endure the long trek to hospital and in Monduli that can be up to 20 kilometers, that is the problem,” she explained.
The White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood is an international coalition of individuals and organizations formed to promote increased public awareness of the need to make pregnancy and childbirth safe for all women and newborns in the developing as well as developed countries.
Since it was launched in 1999, the White Ribbon Alliance has been a leader among those holding governments and institutions to account for the tragedy of maternal mortality. WRA has members in 91 countries. In Tanzania the alliance was launched in 2003 by the immediate former First Lady, Mama Anna Mkapa.
The white Ribbon Alliance so far has enabled the establishment of auxiliary National Alliances in eleven member countries. Tanzania is the only East African country with such a National Alliance.
Other African countries which so far have established National White Ribbon alliances include, Burkina Faso, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malawi, Nepal, Pakistan, South Africa, Yemen and Zambia.
Source: Arusha Times – 30 March 2008