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Men and boys are critical to the eradication of harmful cultural practices

By Judith Oloo | July 5th 2021
The harm inflicted on children through FGM and child marriages outweighs whatever falsely perceived benefits there may be. [Courtesy]

Cultural practices reflect values and beliefs held by members of a community for generations.

Every social grouping has specific traditional cultural practices and beliefs, some beneficial to all members while others are harmful to a specific group. Female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage, for instance, are harmful to girls and women.

Despite their harmful nature and the fact that they violate local and international human rights laws, the practices persist because they are not questioned enough or because they take on an aura of morality in the eyes of those practising them.

Over time, it has become increasingly clear that an equitable society cannot be attained if fundamental rights of women continue to be violated. That is why there are laws against these retrogressive practices.

Emotional stress

FGM is outdated, serves no beneficial purpose to the victims, risks their reproductive health and directly disrupts girls’ education.

Child marriage robs girls of their childhood — a time that is necessary for them to develop physically, emotionally and psychologically.

In fact, early marriage inflicts great emotional stress as the child is plucked from her parents’ home and taken to her husband and in-laws.

Her husband, who will invariably be many years older, will have little in common with a teenager, but she must develop an intimate emotional and physical relationship with him, although physically she is not fully developed.

Invariably, FGM and child marriage, besides stealing the future of the children involved, also greatly affect their physical and mental health as the victims often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder due to the trauma suffered.

It is important to emphasise that the harm inflicted on children through FGM and child marriages outweigh whatever falsely perceived benefits there may be.

Of course, child protection policies are in place. What is becoming clearer is that laws alone won’t protect our children adequately, without recognising that Kenya is a patriarchal society. According to Marcelino Waithaka, a Child Protection expert at EACHRights, although women appear to be at the forefront of the perpetuation of FGM, there is tangible evidence that men may play a significant role in its continuation in the various roles they play as fathers, husbands, and community and religious leaders.

Gender equality

Thus, men and boys’ relationships with women and girls can support or impede improved health and development outcomes.

This view augments the UNFPA’s recommendation that engaging men and boys in the advocacy for gender equality through empowering women is fundamental to achieving a host of development outcomes, including reducing poverty, improving health and addressing other population concerns.

Addressing the different dimensions of gender inequality therefore requires the full participation and cooperation of men, who must now be called to the table where discussions on eradication of FGM and child marriage are held.

This implies then that, men and boys have the power to end these illegal and atrocious acts by saying they shall not marry children, but also shall not attach FGM as a precondition to marry a woman.

Men therefore should stand up and protect children from harmful cultural practices.   

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