A Reflection of My Life after living in Uganda as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Labia Elongation

It was recently brought to my attention that some tribes in Uganda practice labia elongation. I was asked to give a lecture and lead dialogue on, "The Effect of Modernization on Moral Social Issues in Society from America to Uganda." Weighty topic, hu? One of the pre-questions they had given me was, "Some Ugandan girls practice labia elongation to prepare themselves sexually for marriage. What do you do in your society? Is labia elongation a reality in the U.S.?" When I read this question I knew what the words meant but I wasn't sure what it really meant in a day to day kind of context. Did girls really do this to themselves? and how?

It got me asking around. I talked to my neighbors and friends/nurses at the health center. It was the first I was hearing about it. Apparently some tribes in Uganda make their girls elongate their labias. They start around the age of 10 and some girls have several inches of skin hanging from their bodies! They can use local herbs and dead bats to pull on the labials. I was horrified! It turns out most of my Bugandan friends practiced this when they were young. They say it is cultural. I also found out that the matrons in boarding schools teach the girls how to do this! They are doing it right here at my school!

It used to be that the aunt on your fathers side was in charge of teaching you to cook, keep house and elongate your labias once you reached a certain age. However, that practice is no longer as common due to families not wanting each other to be successful, having tensions between families and the fact that many girls now attend boarding school. So the job has fallen to the matrons who preside over the girls dorms. There are even "specialist" that schools can bring in to teach girls how to properly bathe and take care of themselves which includes labia elongation. Annet tells me you even hear advertisements on the radio for such "aunties."

We touched on this topic briefly at the lecture and I asked if this was done because women want it and value it or if it is done because the men want it. You guessed it - it's all for the men! The men will send them away to go and work on making it longer if they find a girl whose labia they are not satisfied with. I told them that I think they need to consider why they are doing it and if they decide it is for their own beliefs and they find value in it for themselves than I will support them but if it is because the men make them then I think it is a despicable practice.

I shouldn't be surprised this happens as it is a patriarchal society, but it still makes me sad. Everyone I talked to is so surprised I didn't know about it before. "Amanda, you've been here for almost 2 years and you didn't know?" They are astonished. To them, it is a common part of culture that everyone knows about. To me, it's just one more fact that men control the world. Why is there such a need to dominate and control?

1 comment:

  1. Wow, while I was also unaware of this practice, I know of a situation here in the US where a child was actually born with elongated labias. She had them surgically corrected/shortened to "average" at the painful age of 22!