The practice of female genital mutilation is very quietly happening in some parts of the southern region with activist calling for a systemic cultural shift to end the harmful procedure.
Female genital mutilation often entails the complete or partial removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons.
Nyasa Times spoke to some chiefs in Machinga, Zomba and Chiradzulu who confirmed that girls in these areas are undergoing the procedure during initiation with the practice going almost unnoticed because of the secrecy surrounding it.
A change in culture is needed to make sure women and girls will no longer have to undergo the procedure, said Senior Chief Liwonde.
“The initiation is intended to prepare them for adulthood,” he said.
He admits that some of the practices carried out during the initiations are not openly discussed with just anyone and are generally kept as a closely guarded secret.
Initiation camps are held outside villages in temporary shelters built just for this purpose and then burnt to the ground once children are sent home, said the chief
The risks associated with female genital mutilation include heavy bleeding, developing sepsis, urinary tract infections, cysts and becoming infertile.
In Zomba, Sub TA Ntholowa confirmed that girls spend days at the “initiation” camps dedicated to learning how to engage in sexual acts through a rite of passage.
The Commission further elaborates on some of these rituals, stating that girls are taught a dance known as chisamba “as a way of preparing them for their role of satisfying their husbands in bed,” and that they are made to perform this dance at the end of their initiation “bare-breasted in a very explicit manner as they are being presented to the whole community.”
The study also notes, however, that initiation rites vary widely, and that in some communities girls attending initiation are advised not to have premarital sex.
Despite the social role of initiations, there are numerous public health concerns surrounding the custom in Malawi. Young girls largely unaware of the risks are being told to have unprotected sex in a country where a tenth of the population is HIV-positive.
Girls Empowerment Network, a locally run coalition of young women led by Joyce Mkandawire is sensitising the public and local leaders against harmful cultural practices.
“The difficulty with culture is you deal with the [village] chief and he says, ‘I have changed. I have put [in] bylaws [to prohibit initiations]. [Then] you come [back] and [initiations] are quietly being done,” says Jean Mwandira, a specialist in reproductive and adolescent health with the United Nations Population Fund in Malawi.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :