New University Courses in Tanzania Will Help Fight Female Genital Mutilation

Tanzania will be the second country in Africa to offer medical professionals classes on treating survivors of FGM.
Tanzanian girls. (Photo: Flickr)
Dec 9, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Remy Tumin is a New York journalist who has written for Brooklyn Magazine, the New York Nonprofit Press and the Vineyard Gazette.

In an effort to fight the illegal and gruesome practice of female genital mutilation, Tanzanian universities will soon begin offering new training courses for medical professionals.

Students enrolled at three different universities will learn counseling techniques for the physical, physiological, and sexual complications that stem from the circumcision tradition, the Thomas Reuters Foundation reported. Classes will be taught at the University of Dodoma, Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences, and the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre, making Tanzania the second country in Africa to offer this type of training.

"[Female genital mutilation] has for years been affecting women and young girls,” said Idris Kikula, vice chancellor of the University of Dodoma. “Much has been done to overcome the problem, albeit with poor results as there were no professionals to deal with the matter. I believe this initiative will ultimately lead to sound results."

Many FGM victims face untreated physical and emotional trauma, Kikula said, often overlooked by doctors due to lack of education. The class provides students pursuing medicine and social sciences tools to take “an active role in eliminating the practice.”

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The procedure includes the complete or partial removal of the external genital area for nonmedical reasons. Most girls are subject to the practice between infancy and age 15.

FGM is recognized internationally as a human rights violation of girls and women. In 2012, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution on the elimination of the practice. According to the World Health Organization, upwards of 140 million girls and women are subject to FGM around the world. It is estimated that about 92 million women and girls above age nine in Africa are living with the consequences of FGM.

An estimated 7.9 million girls and women in Tanzania alone have been subjected to FGM. The practice has been illegal for minors in the East African country since 1998 but the law is rarely enforced, especially in rural areas. Complications from the surgery include hemorrhage, fatal infections, infertility, or complications during childbirth.

Somalia has the highest prevalence rate, 98 percent, according to 2006 numbers. FGM was outlawed in Nigeria earlier this year but the practice is still legal in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Mali.

The tradition is seen by many families as a way to preserve a girl’s virginity and prepare her for marriage. Girls who do not undergo the procedure may be rendered outcastes by their community.

Sia Msuya, a public health expert at the Kilimanjaro Center, told Reuters that the rite-of-passage ritual is “deeply rooted” in local traditions. The training would help doctors meet the specific needs of victims.

First-year medical student Rehema Mosha wishes the program had been adopted earlier. FGM has inflicted “so much pain on so many people,” the MUHAS student said. Mosha hopes she and her fellow students can make a difference.

"I believe that with appropriate training we can be advocates for change to eliminate this harmful practice once and for all," she said.