By Golda Namara
I joined boarding school in P.2 as a naive young girl from the hills of Nyakishenyi, Rukungiri district. Minus the cultural and “modernity” shock, I did not know that worse awaited me in Mpigi district, central Uganda, where the practice is rampant. In primary three, I was moved to a P.3 dormitory (for girls deemed to be starting puberty), where all the “pulling” horror began. On the first day of initiation, we found the matron eagerly waiting for us after night prep. She took us through how important it was for us as future “wives” and mothers, to endure the pain that awaited us for higher chances of happier marriages. The matron then proceeded to pair us. I was paired with a girl who later became a close friend, due to the suffering we had endured together.
The days that proceeded left my innocent memory scared forever. The trauma, pain, confusion and hopelessness that followed are still fresh in my memory. My ‘pulling’ partner was an albino and therefore had very sensitive skin, and my skin too is very prone to tearing and scarring. The caustic herbs the matron prepared to facilitate the pulling (sometimes supplied by parents who thought they were doing a service to their children), were not only very corrosive, but left us sore for days. Pulling is not a pain free exercise, so women who choose to modify their genitalia, can bear the pain and do whatever they want after they turn 18.
The worst bit though were the days the matron had to check progress, and those who were lagging behind often got flogged – sometimes even in between the thighs for emphasis. Those who had progressed were rewarded with leadership positions. The practice is not only painful, but also gives the matrons a chance to abuse children physically, emotionally, and psychologically.
As a 37 year old woman today, I fail to understand why we had to go through such pain at such an early age, and have total strangers make life choices for us without our parents’ consent (though some parents consented and would even tip the matron for positive progress). If we women are to be truly empowered, there should be no reason why we should go through such pain so as to portray ourselves as culturally “sexually desirable”.
It is very unfortunate that most of the people seen interviewed on the subject by top media houses are men – including His excellency the president of Uganda, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni- but unfortunately, none have experienced the raw side of the practice, and therefore cannot be authority to validate why our daughters should also go through that kind of painful initiation.
In this age of millennial, I highly doubt that we are still practicing the puritan practice of marrying one’s tribe or race, and it is therefore very important that we let our children decide later as adults, what matters to them most in matters regarding their sexuality.
Pulling, as it is commonly known, is a tradition in central and southern parts of Uganda and Rwanda. The practice involves the elongation of the labia minora on the female private parts by women and girls. Recently, the Uganda Gender and Culture minister, Ms. Peace Mutuuzo, called on its perpetrators, especially dormitory matrons in boarding schools, to stop the practice, or face reprimand. As a woman who attended boarding school in Mpigi, I cannot agree with her anymore more on banning pulling and any other types of genital mutilation of underage girls.