The Fight Against FGM.
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The Fight Against FGM.

Photo Courtesy.

The anti-female genital mutilation (FGM) stakeholders in Laikipia County have pointed to underfunding, radicalization, and cultural practices as the major setbacks in the fight against the FGM vice.

Speaking with the media after an anti-FGM stakeholder sensitization workshop in Nanyuki, Anti-FGM Board Programme Manager Nyerere Kutwa said that the government was committed to eradicating FGM by the year 2022. However, there were still challenges that needed to be addressed by all the key players in the sector.

He noted that there was positive progress because, according to the 2022 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, there was a drop in FGM cases from 21 percent in 2014 to 15 percent in 2022.

“This is due to effort by all the stakeholders, including survivors who had been able to come out and speak openly against FGM and its effects, discouraging others from undergoing the same, and parents from forcefully taking their children through it,” noted Kutwa.

The fight against this is a collaborative effort and not a government initiative alone to eradicate harmful cultural practices.

Photo Courtesy

FGM can be categorized into 4 types.

Type 1: This is the partial or total removal of the clitoral glans (the external and visible part of the clitoris, which is a sensitive part of the female genitals), and/or the prepuce/clitoral hood (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoral glans).

Type 2: This is the partial or total removal of the clitoral glans and the labia minora (the inner folds of the vulva), with or without removal of the labia majora (the outer folds of skin of the vulva).

Type 3: Also known as infibulation, this is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora, or labia majora, sometimes through stitching, with or without removal of the clitoral prepuce/clitoral hood and glans.

Type 4: This includes all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g., pricking, piercing, incising, scraping, and cauterizing the genital area.

As Kenya marked 10 years of devolution, the issue of FGM still remains a disease in our country. Despite it being outlawed in Kenya in 2011, female genital mutilation (FGM) remains a pressing issue in the country, largely due to traditional beliefs and practices. Also known as female circumcision, cases of FGM in Kenya now come with a minimum three-year prison sentence and a fine of approximately $2,000 or both. However, a law is not enough, and many Kenyan girls still undergo this painful, and dangerous, process in order to maintain their social standing and, eventually, improve their chances of a good marriage.

While many Kenyans support ending FGM, research suggests that the best bet for making this happen is through locally-led initiatives. Recently, we have seen men and also the elderly saying no to this harmful practice which indicates a positive cultural shift. Men are viewed as the heads of the family and final decision makers hence their joining in the fight becomes a game changer.

Globally, more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia where FGM is practiced with more than 3 million girls estimated to be at risk of FGM annually. FGM is therefore of global concern. Treatment of the health complications of FGM is estimated to cost health systems US$ 1.4 billion per year.

Photo Courtesy: Kenya’s Pokot people also still practice FGM. This young girl has just been cut and is now the focus of ritual acts

 FGM is a grave violation of women’s and girls’ rights, with lifelong implications. It robs girls of their childhood, entrenches gender inequality, and causes serious physical and mental harm.

Furthermore, eliminating FGM does not benefit only girls and women. The economic cost of FGM has a direct effect on the development of the nation, affecting generations from childbirth into adulthood. Treating the health complications caused by FGM puts a significant burden on health systems in both national and county budgets. It also widens the gender education gap and affects women’s ability to contribute fully to the workforce. All of this hinders Kenya’s progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

FGM is the root cause of early marriages. Among the Kuria Community, when FGM is done, girls are made to rest for a month, after which they are married off after two years. Failure to do this is considered bad luck. The girls are made to think that once they undergo the cut they are mature enough to handle men in marriage. A more sad truth is that their bride price is higher prompting the girls to do it.

Photo Courtesy: A Pokot girl cries after being circumcised in a village about
80 kilometers from the town of Marigat in Baringo county

Sadly, we live in a society in which girls have to prove their worth not like men who are valued from birth. The value of a girl is only on how much will be given as the bride price Most girls drop out of school when their parents can not educate them, those girls can only dream of a life as homemakers without knowing what could have become of them or the great opportunities in life. What then happens to future generations?

Some of the traditions girls and women have to go through to earn respect in some communities across the globe are dehumanizing.  So much has been said and continues to be said about FGM and its detrimental effects. It is so entrenched in the culture that any reference to ‘backwardness’ is music to the ears of those practicing it.

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