Anti-FGM crusaders should change tack

While attending an editors’ breakfast meeting a day before the launch of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, a revelation by one of the participants left most people with their mouths age.

The participant said a colleague had invited him to his daughter’s circumcision ceremony. He was appalled and wondered why such an educated man would subject his daughter to such a ‘retrogressive’ practice. A nurse had been called to ‘cut’ the girl in the comfort of their home.

“You mean you are willing to let your daughter go through this,” the participant questioned his colleague. “Of course! It is our culture and I have to do that to prepare her for marriage or no man will touch her,” the co-worker quipped.

He told another senior colleague about the invitation and he was not surprised at all. “In fact, it is an honour that you have been invited. When the time comes, I too will circumcise my girls.” Beaten, the man gave up and politely declined the invitation. He now understood why Female Genital Mutilation is still rampant despite the Government’s ban.

An article published in the Daily Mail on November 13, stated that more than a quarter of Kenyan women have undergone the ordeal, despite the practice being outlawed three years ago. In many communities in Africa, traditions are more important than laws and circumcision is considered a rite of passage that marks the transition into womanhood, enabling one to marry.

This, therefore, calls for a change of strategy among anti-FGM crusaders in order to win the campaign.

Many girls are quietly circumcised in towns with the blessing of their parents, some of them doctors, lawyers, ministers, journalists, nurses, you name it.

Instead of concentrating their energies in the rural areas, the anti-FGM campaigners should strive to initiate attitude change among ‘professionals’, who are abetting the practice instead of educating rural men and women on the dangers of the cut.

FGM involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons and is commonly carried out by traditional circumcisers.

However, according to the World Health Organisation, more than 18 per cent of all FGM is performed by health care providers, and the trend is increasing. FGM is recognised internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes. It is nearly, always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children.

Violates rights

It also violates a person’s rights to health, security, the right to be free from torture and the right to life when the procedure results in death.

It has been widely reported that several traditional circumcisers have downed their tools following sensitisation by NGOs. Traditional circumcisers may down their tools alright, but unless health workers stop abetting the practice, it won’t have an impact. Another issue that needs to be addressed is peer pressure. Many girls succumb to pressure from their friends, to avoid being seen as the laughing stock. And afraid they may not find husbands to marry them, not even death can deter the young girls from the cut.

A report titled ‘My Action Counts in Ending Gender Based Violence’ presented during the editors’ meeting by Joyce Muchena, Acting Chief of Party, Peace Initiative Kenya project, lists prohibition of FGM 2011 Act as a legal mechanism in the management of Gender Based Violence (GBV). The meeting held at the Laico Regency Hotel was organised by the African Woman and Child Feature Service.

A study by the Peace Initiative Kenya (PIK) project carried out in nine counties between February and June shows that various forms of GBV- FGM and wife-battering are accommodated, justified and even institutionalised in certain Kenyan cultures.

This is a pointer to the amount of work that still needs to be done to criminalise GBV.

The study was conducted in Kisumu, Kisii, Kwale, Migori, Mombasa, Nandi, Taita Taveta, Trans Nzoia and Uasin Gishu counties.

PIK was initiated in June 2012, to contribute to a more protective environment for women before, during and after the March 2013 elections.

It is funded by USAID Kenya, managed by International Rescue Committee (and implemented by several local organisations).

FGM remains illegal in Kenya, however, practitioners or parents who subject their children to the cut are rarely charged in a court of law.

The practice is still rife among the Maasai, Kuria, Kisii, Pokot and Somali communities.

More than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 29 African countries and Middle East where FGM is concentrated.

It is mostly carried out on young girls, sometimes between infancy and 15 years. FGM has no health benefits and interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies.

Immediate complications include severe pain, shock, bleeding, tetanus or bacterial infection, urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to genital tissue.

Long-term consequences include recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections, cysts, infertility, an increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths and the need for later surgeries.