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Violet Barungi and Hildah Twongyeirwe Rutagonya



Voices of Women in Uganda on Female Genital Mutilation


Edited by
Violet Barungi and Hildah Twongyeirwe Rutagonya

Barungi, Violet and Hilda Twongyeirwe, eds. Taboo. Voices of Women in Uganda on Female Genital Mutilation. Foreword Rebecca Salonen. Afterword Violet Barungi. Frankfurt am Main: UnCUT/VOICES Press, 2015.



Book description



Voices of Women in Uganda on Female Genital Mutilation


Edited by
Violet Barungi and Hildah Twongyeirwe Rutagonya


Female genital mutilation is the excruciating and damaging experience endured by many women and children in various cultures across Africa and elsewhere in the world. Even when survivors find themselves, for one reason or another, relocated to what should be safe havens, the practice follows them like a vengeance ghost.

This unique text, combining oral history with literary art, compiles testimonies and poems about FGM: the humiliation, deprivation, and loss it occasions. These accounts, factual in some cases and lyrical in others, reveal the practice as lived or witnessed and the visceral responses to it. The anger is palpable, the battlement tangible. Besides the pain, though, is the hope born of voices raised by governments, organization, institutions, and individuals, urging that FGM be abandoned or transformed into rituals for building self-esteem without the blades.

We are grateful to Femrite, Women Writers Collective in Kampala, Uganda, for the courage to have published this revealing work.

The oral histories, short stories and poems in this collection in which women in Uganda speak out revolve around the inhumanity of FGM (female genital mutilation). Tradition shrouds the practice in mystery but the societal norms which dictate such cruel interventions in women's sexual development don't take their welfare into consideration. It is hoped that these perturbing testimonies by FGM victims, women and young girls in all parts of Uganda -- and the world—will encourage more vigorous steps to denounce the barbaric tradition and reclaim trights, lives and enjoyment of full womanhood.


Hildah Twongyeirwe Rutagonya at Bookfair


Hildah Twongyeirwe Rutagonya at Bookfair



" Although the content of Taboo may be depressing, the captivating presentation generates an overpowering urge to read on and learn more. In these stories that are part case study and part literary art, the down-to-earth approach demystifies a taboo subject by representing the points of view of both victims and executors. Even the poetry, without being didactic, also increases insight into female genital mutilation; its cultural value to the community; its impact on individual women and perceptions of the ‘other’ world. A feminist, anthropological, and advocacy piece, this creative work by the Femrite Collective has created a turning point in the campaign to eradicate FGM in Uganda and beyond. Its portrayal of a harsh reality leaves that unforgettable emotional mark on the reader even as it conveys unequivocal facts. Congratulations! "


- Professor Joy C. Kwesiga, Vice Chancellor of Kabale University in Southwestern Uganda

" This book is simply astonishing. The interviews with these women transcend simple storytelling, boundaries and differences, asking this one succinct question: what are we all going to do to stop this regrettable practice? "

- Jeanie Kortum, novelist and author of Stones. A co-imprint from SheWritesPress and UnCUT/VOICES Press, 2018.



Rebecca Salonen

Introduction 7 Dorah Musiimire
Plucking a Rose Bud 10 Betty Kituyi
Do not Count on Me 11 Jemeo Nanyonjo
Tonight 18 Grace Atuhaire
I Am Already a Woman! 19 Bananuka Jocelyn Ekochu
The Woman in Me 20 Lindah Niwenyesiga
Sacrilege 30 Linda Lilian
All for Tradition 31 Sharon Lamwaka and Hilda Twongyeirwe Rutagonya
Petals for the Wind 32 Tezira Jamwa
The Ungodly Scalpel 50 Linda Lillian
The Unwilling Sacrificial Lamb 52 Lillian Tindyebwa
Beyond the Music and the Dance 53 Alal Sophie Brenda
Walking on these Heavy Hills 65 Jennifer A. Okech
I say no more! 66 Waltraud Ndagijimana
Chelimo’s November 67 Barbara Oketta
Pruning 75 Cathy Anite
Crossroads 76 Margaret Ntakalimaze
Her Last Word 82 Betty Kituyi
My Mbasuben 84 Maryam Sheikh Abdi
The Cut 95 Sophie Bamwoyeraki
Vultures of Culture 100 Hilda Twongyeirwe Rutagonya
The Intrigue 102 Hilda Twongyeirwe Rutagonya
My Sister learns her ABC 111 Brenda Lubwama
My Mother’s Wish 112 Bananuka Jocelyn Ekochu
Fly Beyond the Knife 114 Ala Sopphie Brenda
In Kapchorwa 126 Arlen Atutambira
A Little Time 127 Lillian Tindyebwa
Mocked by Fate 128 Wudalat Gedamu (Ethiopia)
SAY ’NO” (Translated from Amharic) 137 Hilda Twongyeirwe
Threshold 138 Cathy Anite
Saina’s Story 139 Hilda Twongyeirwe
Run (For my sisters) 148 Beatrice Lamwaka
The Missing Letter in the Alphabet 149 Salome Akwi
Veto the Cut 153 Hon Dora C. Canabahita Byamukama
Postscript 154 Violet Barungi
Afterword 157 Prose Contributors 160




With an M.A. in Public Administration and Management, a degree in social sciences, and a diploma in education, Hildah Twongyeirwe Rutagonya is passionate about women’s issues and has initiated many writing projects aimed at making heard the voice of the marginalised woman. Her short stories, poems, and literary articles have appeared in journals and magazines. A graduate of Makerere University Kampala, Hildah juggles life as a mother, a development worker, a writer, and an editor. She is a founding member of FEMRITE - Uganda Women Writers Association and now manages this outfit. In 2008, her book, Fina the Dancer earned a certificate of recognition for an outstanding contribution to children’s literature. She has also published other children’s books in Rukiga Runyankore, courtesy of Longhorn Publishers. Hilda serves on the Board of Directors of the National Book Trust, the Arterial Network Uganda Chapter’s Executive Committee, and is a member of the Banyakigezi International Community, Uganda Chapter. She is a recipient of a national medal from the Government of Uganda for her contribution to emancipation of women through literary arts, the Women for Women Arts and Culture award 2018 and the Uganda Registration Services Bureau Cultural Memory award 2018.  She acts on her sense of social justice in numerous organizations: Development (ACFODE); the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development; the African Women Development Fund; Oxfam-IBIS and others. In 2014 she convened a regional meeting of women writers which established a loose network of African Women writers’ initiatives. A fellow of the 2019 USA IVLP coordinated under the theme "Writing and Social Justice," she is also a member of the Advisory Board of the African Research Universities Alliance - Centre of Excellence in Notions of Identity at Makerere University and serves on the Permanent Bureau of the African Asian Latin-American Writers Union. She hails from Kacerere, in Kabale District, western Uganda. A recent book, co-authored with Elizabeth Ashamu Deng, is No time to mourn: an anthology by South Sudanese women (Femrite, 2020).

A graduate of Makarere University in Kampala, Violet Barungi is a novelist, editor, co-founder of Femrite Women Writers Collective and mother of six. Her novels include Cassandra (1999) and The Shadow and the Substance (1998). A prolific author of children’s stories, she highlights violations of girls’ and women’s human rights, particularly early, child marriage that deprives the underage bride of her education. She is, moreover, the editor or co-editor of ten books and a playwright recognized by the British Council New Playwriting Award for Africa and the Middle East for her drama “Over My Dead Body” (1997).

Rebecca Salonen



Even if you are involved in international female genital mutilation activism, you probably have not heard much about FGM in Uganda. Among the 28 African countries where female ‘circumcision’ is performed, Uganda stands near the bottom of the FGM-prevalence list, around 5 % or less. This does not mean that female genital mutilation in Uganda is not a problem, but only that the Pokot, Tepeth, and Sabiny (Sebei), out of Uganda’s 50-plus indigenous ethnic groups, practice FGM. These three groups live in remote and seasonally inaccessible regions on the eastern border with Kenya, where there are few casual visitors. Until recently, FGM was the lot of every girl in these societies, however, and the type of excision was very severe. Depending on the inspiration, ability, or eyesight of the cir- cumciser, all external genitals are traditionally cut away. Most other Ugandans are horrified by the practice, and Parliament en- acted the Prohibition of FGM act in 2010, so the public ‘circumcision’ ceremonies are disappearing, and the cutting is now being done secretly, in the dark.

I learned about female genital mutilation in Uganda almost by accident. In 1998, while I was visiting Kampala, a friend introduced me to Hon. Jane Frances Kuka, a Sabiny who was then Minister of Gen- der. She had famously escaped being circumcised by staying in school. When her opposition to the practice became too trouble- some, in 1988 the elders bought rope and planned to tie her up and mutilate her by force. She escaped to Kampala and returned by helicopter with the Minister for Women, who suggested the elders give up compulsory FGM. Later, Hon. Kuka was elected to the women’s seat for Kapchorwa in Parliament.

Hon. Kuka invited me to visit her hometown of Kapchorwa during the 1998 ‘circumcision’ season to attend Culture Day, a festival created by Uganda’s Reproductive, Educative and Community Health (REACH) project which had been launched in 1996 by the United Nations Population Fund to combat female genital mutilation. In 1998, Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, arrived by helicopter at the mountaintop town. Standing in the bed of a truck, he delivered a speech to the thousands of Sabiny people gathered at the Boma Grounds for Culture Day, urging them to abandon their fiercely de- fended practice of female ‘circumcision’. Others spoke as well, including leading elders, some of whom stood in front of the president and, to our surprise but apparently not to the president’s, announced their determination to continue their traditional practices. Later that evening, visitors and Kapchorwa dignitaries gathered at a celebration dinner. After listening to some congratulatory speeches, a com- munity leader rose. Looking squarely at the visitors, he said forcefully that the Sabiny did not need anyone from New York or Lon- don to come to Kapchorwa and tell them what to do about female ‘circumcision’.

That night, locked into our compound near Sipi, we lay awake in our beds hearing the sounds of ‘circumcision’ in the darkness: Feet marching on the roads, bells, and whistles, singing and drumming that lasted all night long. At breakfast the next morning, as we looked out at the magnificent Sipi Falls plunging into the chasm below our lodge, our hosts told us how many girls had been cut at dawn. We wondered if any had died. The same ceremonies would continue for weeks, long after we had returned to our safe homes in the West. There was nothing we could have done. We were the people from New York and London whose views were irrelevant.

After returning home, a few of us formed the Godparents Association. We raised the funds to pay school fees for Sabiny girls (later also for Pokot girls, who are also at risk for ‘circumcision’) to help them stay in school and avoid being cut, as Hon. Kuka had done. Over the years, we have sponsored hundreds of girls in secondary schools, and a number have completed university studies and master’s degrees. All of them have avoided FGM, defied cultural expectations, and taken new paths in life that do not require them to be cut. These are the young women who will help to transform their culture.

The book you are reading is a collection of the stories of girls and women who have firsthand knowledge about female ‘circumcision’ in Kapchorwa and elsewhere. Each story is valuable because it is authentic and unique. Although FGM is no longer the secret that once seemed unbelievable to people in the West, there are many hidden aspects that underlie the persistence of the practice. Some of these are revealed by the women who speak in these pages – witchcraft, coercion, intoxication. Unlike the young women we have sponsored, most of whom have hair-raising tales about escaping forced ‘circumcision’, many of the women in these pages (and even the circumcisers) did not have a choice and were forced into FGM.

We do not know exactly how many Ugandan women have suffered female genital mutilation or how many hundreds of girls are being cut every year. No census taker goes door to door in the mountains or pursues the migrating Pokot pastoralists to count the ‘circumcised’ women in their households. Eventually, once the aid funding is exhausted and the papers are written, the people from New York and London always go home. But the Sabiny will remain on Mt. Elgon, coping with the divisions and differences among them since their ancient practice became of interest to outsiders. Only they can stop female genital mutilation on the mountain.

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