The spectre of female genital mutilation (FGM) is proving a hard one to exorcise. Recent reports indicate that girls in West Pokot have resorted to circumcising each other after elderly women shunned the practice following a government ban. The girls worry that they will not find husbands without the cut in a community in which the practice has deep-rooted cultural significance.
In Meru, women who shunned FGM complain that they are being avoided by fellow women who still conduct FGM secretly, throwing the government’s efforts to eradicate FGM into a spiral. Available statistics indicate that up to 9.3 million women and girls have undergone FGM. Threats from government, and herding the elderly women who carry out circumcision into jail is clearly not working. It is time for the government and NGOs fighting the practice to change tack.
The starting point ought to be the mind; reaching out to shift the mindsets of communities in the 22 counties where FGM is rampant and where men shun women who have not undergone the cut. The fight against FGM cannot be won with singular focus on the female population. Men and boys should be involved in the fight against it. The youth should be taught early about dangers of FGM to turn them into warriors against the practice and defenders of kin who stay away from it.
There is also need to work with elders to show them the attendant psychological distress, health complications and deaths that have led to FGM being declared a negative tradition. The mind is a powerful tool in tackling cultural practices that harm more than help. To change our society, we must start by working on its mindset.