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Roving gangs of up to 100 people forcibly mutilate more than 400 women and girls in Uganda

Sixteen men and three women accused of forcibly mutilating women in eastern Uganda have been arrested following a joint operation between police and the military earlier this week. According to media reports, local gangs of up to 100 people — led by elderly women accompanied by men carrying machetes — had subjected more than 400 women, some as young as 12, to female genital mutilation (FGM) against their will during the past month.

“We carried out an operation,” said deputy police spokeswoman Polly Namaye. “Some of the people we arrested include those who participate in the process, the people who cut, those who prepare the girls for circumcision, the ones who sing during the celebrations and all that. It hurts the girls, it makes them uncomfortable and fear for themselves. It’s torture in itself. We encourage that this [practice] is not carried on. We encourage the women to stand up for themselves and refuse to take part in this ritual, which was made criminal by law.”

While FGM has been illegal in Uganda since 2010, critics say the government has done too little to enforce the ban as the practice remains commonplace — especially in rural areas, where FGM has become a longstanding tradition.

Mercy Munduru, program officer at the Uganda Association of Women Lawyers, said that police and the government alike needed to do more to protect vulnerable women and girls from being subjected to mutilation. A public education campaign, she noted, would be crucial in helping locals to understand the dangers and long-term health consequences of FGM — and to encourage them to work to end the practice themselves.

“No single approach can eliminate FGM,” she explained. “Criminalizing the practice only will not change people’s behavior. We recommend greater government involvement in the protection of women’s rights. Tackle the secrecy that allows cutting to continue.”

“It is time for advocates to invoke human rights standards and hold governments accountable for their inaction in response to FGM,” she continued. “So that girls and women no longer have to suffer in silence.”

SOURCE: WOMEN IN THE WORLD

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