Sengas - My journey to womanhood
The word “Senga” literally means paternal aunt. Sengas are women responsible for the sexual education of young girls and women approaching the age of marriage. While in the past this task was carried out by members of the family, in modern Uganda, especially in the cities, it has become a profession. Commercial Sengas are technically entrepreneurs, who have seen the opportunity to provide the role of paternal aunts at a fee. One of their tasks is to perform labia pulling, the elongation of the labia minora of the vagina in order to enhance sexual pleasure.
Labia pulling, or stretching (Okukyalira ensiko in Luganda language, which means literally visiting the bushes) is an extremely controversial topic. Some argue that it is a method to enhance sexual pleasure in both men and women. Others believe it is just a myth. And others again consider it to be a harmful practice and a violation of human rights, especially being often practiced on very young girls who are not aware of the reasons, why this is done to them.
Until 2008, the World Health Organization classified labia elongations as a Type IV of Female Genital Mutilation. After further studies it has been re-classified to a “genital modification” practice.
Author’s perspective : While working on several projects challenging FGM in various African countries and in Europe, we got interested in the topic of labia stretching because it is much less known and also for its controversy. After some research on the topic we realized that a better understanding of this practice would only be possible by getting a deeper insight into the general sexual culture of the communities that practice it. That’s how we came to the idea to make a documentary about Sengas, the custodians of this culture.
A project about labia pulling and in general about sexual culture in modern Uganda should be seen as a small piece of a bigger picture. At the center of our artistic research stays the female body. A gender revolution is happening globally, challenging any uncritical conformation to tradition, constituted by its paradigms and norms. Social pressure for changes in the appearance of the female body is a reality which affects all cultures and populations of the world in different ways. The dynamics of roles among genders are a topic without borders which concerns humanity as a whole. In this sense our action is of global interest.
Creative Producer / Script