Wrapped in despair, sitting and wondering what type of poison to drink. A stench fills the air and you shudder at why you have been cursed. You pray to the Gods you know for help, for comfort, for relief. When will it end? You have been abandoned and forced to be an outcast but not because of a crime or some infectious disease, but because you lack a basic human function, the ability to control your own waste.
This condition, although horrifying, is common in some countries, including Uganda and the US. The medical reasons behind it will vary; sometimes it can be from malnutrition coupled with hard labor from a young age. And then, especially in the Sub-Saharan African clinics, it is due to the practice of female circumcision also referred to as female genital cutting, FMG, or a clitoridectomy.
“Western women and Ugandan women generally want the same things for their children: a good life, health, education and family love,” said Linda Chamberlain, a professor at SLCC. “The difference lies in the difficulty they have in obtaining that which we take for granted. Due to lack of education, FGM unfortunately continues.”
A clitoridectomy, is done for cultural, religious or other non-therapeutic reasons. In other words, it is not medically necessary. It is thought to make the girls more “pure” or marriageable by reducing her desire for sexual activity.
According to the Female Genital Cutting Education and Resource Center the women may be threatened with death if they do not conform.
Efforts are underway to end the practice of giving clitoridectomies, but it is still prevalent. In the United States, it is estimated that over 10,000 girls are at risk. Egypt took a huge leap when they banned the practice in 2007 after the death of a young girl. But according to the Female Genital Mutilation Network, 75% of Egyptian women have been circumcised.
Feb 6 has been declared International Day of Zero Tolerance for female genital cutting by the UN but in Ethiopia 8 out of 10 girls will face a clitoridectomy and its complications.
The complications include: the drastic inability to control all bladder and continence functions, increased risk of death during the procedure which is often done under unsanitary conditions, decrease or absence of sexual pleasure, death of the baby if they do get pregnant and many other psychological, physiological and emotional problems.
Chamberlain donates her entire salary to the cause of educating Ugandan women who set to have the surgery. She has been visiting Uganda for the past 11 years with her husband, a retired physician.
There is a clinic in Kitovu, Uganda that is run by a variety of volunteers, some include catholic nuns who are also surgeons. The clinic focuses on fistula repair, a surgery done to allow the women who have had a clitoridectomy a somewhat normal life.
Even getting themselves to the clinic to have the surgery done can be an ordeal and, according to Chamberlain, the surgery is fortunately around 95% effective.
Not only does the clinic provide medical relief, but through the efforts of Chamberlain and her organization, they are also offering homemade quilts and dresses for the women to take back to their village after the surgery. These articles may be the only clean clothing and blanket they own.
A Walk to Beautiful, a movie about these women and their struggles, shows the women in their quilts, laughing and talking with each other, allowing a completely different picture. They have finally found comfort, relief and empathy. They are now wrapped in hope.
Students or anyone else interested in making a donation, in the form of money or a quilt square, to help Chamberlain can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Other donations can also be made through the Inter Ethnic Health Alliance at www.interethnichealthalliance.org.