Rhobi Participates in Women’s Health Talk

On 5th December 2020, East African Education Foundation and TUHEDA hosted a Women’s Health Talk to discuss the impact of female genital mutilation (FGM). Hope founder, Rhobi Samwelly, joined a panel with OB-GYN specialist Dr. Leila Rusamba and international broadcaster Zuhra Yunus. Together, they educated attendees on the health risks of FGM and the strides being made to educate communities.

They stressed the biological implications of cutting girls without consent across the four types of FGM. When girls lose their clitoris, they essentially lose a part of their body that they don’t yet understand. They do not comprehend what they have lost, and how this practice will redefine their attitudes towards intimacy, which in turn increases the potential of domestic violence. In addition, while the clitoris may be considered a small part of the human body, it is served by an artery that contains a major blood supply, so when the artery is cut, there is potential to bleed to death.

FGM also affects childbirth, particularly due to the extent of cutting and the scarring left behind. In the most severe case, when genitalia is completely closed, there is no passage for the baby to come out. Thus there is a high likelihood for the woman to suffer a hemorrhage, and for the death of the woman and child. In cases of partial removal, the scar tissue that has healed does not stretch as much as normal tissue, increasing health risks and pain levels during birth.

However, Rhobi discussed how our work has visibly changed attitudes towards FGM in rural Tanzania. She can see girls standing up for themselves and refusing to undergo this rampant practice, with a prevalence of around 32%1 in the Mara region. Parents have also started refusing for their girls to be cut, and laws have been more strictly enforced to send cutters to prison.

She also highlighted the support received from boys and men. While Mara is a male-dominated area, men are a part of our FGM clubs and attempt to educate other men about the effects of gender-based violence and harmful traditions. Boys have increasingly refused to marry girls who have been cut after learning about unwarranted health risks. There have been challenges in educating families who value the income generated from cutting. Families receive higher dowries when girls who marry are cut. Yet through our community dialogue, and awareness generation, Rhobi believes that progress is being made.

Rhobi then discussed some of the Hope initiatives taking place during the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, including a village debate with men around gender-based issues, a mapathon during Human Rights Day, and a girls’ march in front of government leaders. These actions are designed to raise awareness around the issue of FGM. Rhobi summarised:

“You have to create awareness. You have to teach them about the effects of FGM. Change is slow, but one day FGM will be history.”

Watch the full recording here:

1 UNFPA report on FGM

Debating Gender-Based Violence with male villagers in Northern Tanzania

In December 2020, we held debates with 60 local men in Bonchugu village and Nyamburi village, Northern Tanzania, around the impact of female genital mutilation (FGM) and other forms of gender-based violence. They voiced their views on questions including;

  • Why do men like to marry girls who are cut?
  • Why do men not like to marry girls who are not cut?
  • What are the challenges that girls who are cut are likely to face in their society?

This fostered a dialogue that challenged gender roles and practices as a step towards ending harmful practices against girls and women.

Those gathered discussed how men prefer to marry circumcised girls so that they can protect their wealth, earn respect within their communities, and build recognition as keepers of their customs and traditions.

They also examined how men did not like to marry uncircumcised girls because they believed that it would be a curse on their families. Men and their wives would be segregated by other villagers as girls who are not cut are not allowed to participate in traditional ceremonies and partake in community decisions. Some of the challenges faced by girls who marry without being cut were raised and included:

  • They will likely face segregation among community members
  • They may be called names and insulted
  • They will not be involved in activities of their tradition
  • They will be prohibited from contributing to community decisions.

We then evaluated the challenges that girls face when they undergo female genital mutilation. Men were educated on how girls face bleeding during cutting, which may lead to death, and how it is possible to be infected with diseases such as HIV due to cutters using the same tools across recipients.

Locals discussed how to end gender-based violence in their societies. Men believed that governments should more strictly enforce the law, and education should be provided to community members. In addition, traditional elders should be taught the impact of gender-based violence and be convinced to align with governmental goals for abolishing it. More safe houses should also be constructed to protect girls during this period of drastic change.

We then listed baseline expectations among locals to be ambassadors during the fight against gender-based violence. Men should inform the police when they detect unwarranted practices in their villages and should educate their communities about the impact of FGM and gender-based violence at large.

Holding debates and community outreach events can foster a continuing dialogue that will challenge and change existing norms around gender practices. Being able to engage men in villages in this way is also a huge indication of the progress being made, we will continue to build upon these opportunities to have an open dialogue with individuals who previously would have been unwilling to do so.

This debate formed part of our recognition of the United Nation’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. Please see our series of blog posts and our social channels for further information on the events we have been involved in during this important 16 days.

Fighting FGM with Maps

On November 16, Crowd2Map founder Janet Chapman and Hope founder Rhobi Samwelly, discussed how they use mapping tools to rescue girls at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) in rural Tanzania during the How Mapping Can Protect Girls from FGM virtual event.

Rhobi talking at an earlier event
Rhobi talking at an earlier event
in Northern Tanzania

Tanzania has been a quiet champion against FGM since its independence and criminalised the practice in 1998. But despite its unwarranted health risks, some families – particularly in remote, rural communities – still force girls to undergo FGM to secure higher dowries and align with cultural practices.

FGM cases particularly accrue during the school holidays, otherwise known as “cutting seasons.” Rhobi mentioned that forty-one girls were rescued during the day of their webinar alone, and two girls were in the process of being rescued by local officials. The team expects to rescue around 350 girls in December based on their intel from educators, community programs, and local activists.

Hope runs two safe houses in Mugumu and Butiama to harbor girls at risk, while also conducting outreach, re-educating families, and supporting prosecutions against gender-based violence. Rhobi estimated that teams are currently supporting around 20 prosecutions, primarily with families and cutters.

Mapping has been a critical step towards fully combatting FGM. Since these FGM cases occur in unmapped regions of Tanzania, local officials are forced to drive through unmarked roads during the middle of the night to retrieve girls. Maps visualise their areas and enable officials to secure the safest routes for driving girls to safe houses.

For five years, Crowd2Map has been working to ensure that every village and person is counted. They now have a global team of around 14,000 online volunteers who map buildings and roads from satellite images. These maps are then shared through a collaborative geodata platform called OpenStreetMap. Janet and Rhobi have also facilitated Youthmappers groups in eight universities across Tanzania. 

In addition, Crowd2Map and Hope have trained local volunteers on the ground with funding from WomenConnect. A woman in each of 87 villages was trained on how to use a smartphone, map their village, and use open-source data collection (ODK) to report gender based violence for authorities in their district. These Digital Champions have continued to be a force for change. They provide the locations of victims, monitor case reports, and follow up with girls after being returned to safer environments. With ODK, Digital Champions can securely submit forms offline and easily visualise data. Anyone interested can read about their work with the University of Nottingham.

When “cutting seasons” end, Hope coordinates with local police to meet the families of girls staying at the safe house. They strive for a period of reconciliation and request parents to sign an affidavit ensuring an environment free from gender-based violence. If families refuse to sign, Hope continues to support the girls in the safe house and encourage them to attend a nearby school.

During the webinar, Crowd2Map and Hope recounted other pertinent initiatives. Rhobi described her speech at the UN General Assembly and the launch of UNFPA’s annual report Against My Will about defying practices that harm women. She also mentioned her interview with BBC World Service. Teams are also working to standardise health centers’ response to FGM by providing guidance on how practitioners discuss FGM with a girl’s parents. They also explained their efforts towards providing girls with education, since many girls face profound difficulties in attending secondary school.

Watch the full webinar recording here:

It is always inspiring to hear about Janet and Rhobi’s work to empower and elevate girls at risk. For anyone interested in being a part of the mapping community, Janet and Rhobi recommend visiting the Crowd2Map website. Anyone linked to a university is suggested to visit the Youthmappers website to create a group of mappers against FGM. You can also visit the StoryMap article to learn more.

An exciting collaboration between FAWCO and Hope

Rhobi and some of the Hope girls

The Hope for Girls and Women team is very grateful and humbled to confirm that we have been selected as the Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas’ (FAWCO) Target Project running from 2020 until 2022.

FAWCO Member Clubs voted in February to select the 2020-2022 Target Project. Hope’s project: S.A.F.E. (Safe Alternatives for FGM Elimination) was selected from the three short-listed projects identified by the Target Selection Committee.

The two-year collaborative project between Hope and FAWCO will have the following objectives:

  1. Provide protection and health services to survivors of FGM and those at risk of undergoing the practice,
  2. Empower 500 families to embrace a life free from FGM for all family members through psychosocial counselling,
  3. Support 200 women and 300 girls who have already been cut to live healthy and fulfilled lives through psychosocial and healthcare support,
  4. Empower 5 local communities to adopt positive social norms which uphold the human rights and health of all community members through community sensitisation and public declarations against FGM by respected community leaders during 2 annual Alternative Rites of Passage (ARP) ceremonies over the two years of the project,
  5. Empower 50 girls and 50 women through economic generating activities for enhancing access to National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) plan and ability to pay costs related to health services.

With the global network that FAWCO offers, we can help to build awareness of the need to end FGM in Tanzania and across the world.

International Women’s Day

Our International Women’s Day campaign starts today!

Please support Hope as we participate in the Girl Fund campaign.

Hope provides 2 safe houses in Tanzania for girls who are desperately escaping female genital mutilation (FGM).

Hope also offers our safe house residents and girls free classes to support women and girls. We help them develop their independence to make them less vulnerable to forced marriage and FGM

Between 6th – 12th March, we are participating in the Girl Fund Campaign. This annual campaign sees donations contribute towards placing 8 charities into a funded cohort for one year. 

Your donation will help provide the Hope Safe Houses with basic provisions. If we also become one of the 8 Girl Fund 2020 cohorts, it will be an added bonus that will allow us to achieve a lot more for the girls in our care.

If you want to donate or to learn more about the Girl Fund campaign, visit this page.

Thank you!