• According to a PhD student at Makerere, the elongation of the labia majora and minorawas chiefly to raise barricades for rapists
  • In other societies, the larger elongated lips are known to make sex more pleasurable

As Kenyans cut and mutilate their girls’ genital parts, in Uganda, they strive to elongate the labia majora and minora, or the ‘lips’ in layman’s language, by pulling and elongating part of the vagina.

The practice is called okukyalira ensiko, which literally translates to ‘going to the bush.’ It is actually in the bush where pre-teenage young girls are taken to have their lips elongated. It is an ingenious practice that the World Health Organisation calls Female Genital Modification.

The lips enjoy a perverse deference in central parts of Uganda, according to Yahya Sseremba, a PhD student at Makerere who is behind the online journal, Campus Journal.

Sseremba reports that among the Bahima clan, the elongation was chiefly to raise barricades for rapists, although in other societies, it is purely to optimise sexual pleasure. It is done by Ssengas (paternal aunts) or any older woman.

The Ssengas reportedly use three fingers to pull each of the lips downwards for several weeks. Those past their teenage years have to do it for over a month. The process is aided by traditional herbs that serve as catalysts.

During sex, the larger elongated lips are known to make sex more pleasurable. It is handy during oral sex and a popular sexual practice known as Kachabali. Longer lips are also known to keep the genital parts moist and warm compared to short ones.

Once the lips attain their required length, neither too long nor too short, women are advised to revisit the Sssengas for maintenance of the shapes, warmth and fascination. Hygiene is also highly recommended.

Whereas FGM kills sexual feelings, labia elongations enhance those very feelings. Sseremba reports of a leading Kampala Ssenga who has had even European women as customers.

In support of the practice is the notable Ugandan human rights activist and lawyer, Dr Sylvia Tamale, who in her paper, Eroticism, Sensuality and Women’s Secrets among the Baganda: A Critical Analysis, defends the practice.

“Lumping Okukyalira ensiko together with FGM procedures that pose health hazards to women completely disregards the ways in which this practice, encoded within the Ssenga institution, has enhanced sexual pleasure for women, and expanded their perceptions of themselves as active sexual beings.

Far from suffering feelings of ‘incompleteness, anxiety and depression’ that the WHO associates with this practice, most of those interviewed in this study spoke positively of this cultural practice. This ‘lived experience’ of Baganda women contradicts the negative blanket characterisation of the cultural practice of labia elongation offered by the WHO,” she writes.