YAOUNDE — Cameroon and the World Health Organization (WHO) have a launched a campaign against female circumcision. The practice, which critics call female genital mutilation (FGM), is still practiced in the Central African nation for commercial reasons and traditional belief that it makes a woman faithful to her husband.
It was 5:00 am when I arrived at the Nkolbisson neighborhood in Yaounde, where a lady popularly known as Ma Julie secretly does female circumcision. She already has a nine-year-old girl brought by her mother to be circumcised.
"My mother brought me here for treatment," said the girl.
Ma Julie does not want me to come closer to her traditional operating area, but I can see two pairs of scissors and razorblades in a dish three meters away. She told VOA she does not use the blades on her clients in the afternoon when temperatures are high because it can lead to excessive bleeding.
"This is something that has always existed in our tradition. Our parents did it, our grandparents did it and our great grandparents promoted this act," said Ma Julie. "When you remove those parts of a woman she eventually remains faithful to her husband."
"Don't you want a faithful wife?" she asked.
Cameroon's Ministry of Women's Empowerment and the Family says female circumcision is an economic activity and a source of livelihood to some of the promoters. The ministry says that is why it is giving money to the promoters to change their activities.
Ma Julie received $100, but said she makes more than that in a month. She said her clients give her a chicken and $10 for each circumcision, and now the government is asking them to stop the practice. We shall not, she concludes.
Cameroon's Minister of Women's Empowerment and the Family, Marie Theres Abena Ondoua, said she encountered similar arguments from others who perform circumcisions.
She said when they argue with those who promote FGM, they ask you how they will live without it, and that is why you must give enough assistance for promoters to stop the activity, since you can not ask them to abandon the practice without giving them money to live on. So we are looking for funding to ensure the conversion of promoters.
Traditional health practioners
The government of Cameroon and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimate that one percent of women aged 15 to 49 have had their outer genitals removed.
But these figures, collected from conventional health centers, do not reflect the true situation in a country where 80 percent of the population depends on traditional health practitioners, said Professor Verkijika Fannso, lecturer of history at the University of Yaounde One.
He said it is difficult to stop the practice because of traditional beliefs that it makes a woman faithful.
"Some people believe that if you do not do that to a young growing up girl, she might grow up to become promiscuous, some believe that she might grow up not to have children, and some believe that she might not be respected," said Fannso. "It is the fear of those traditional beliefs that make people of those societies begin to do that practice of female genital mutilation."
An estimated 140 million girls and women around the globe have undergone circumcisions.
According to medical experts, the practice causes severe pain and has several long-term consequences, including difficulties in childbirth.