Kenya has made huge progress in abandoning female genital mutilation. According to the 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS), the national prevalence of FGM is 21 per cent, down from 27 in 2008/9 and 32 in 2003.
Despite the decline, prevalence remains high among some communities such as the Somali (94 per cent), Kisii (86), Samburu (83) and Maasai (78).
FGM refers to all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the female genitalia and/or injury to the female genital organs for cultural or any other non-therapeutic reasons.
The practice can cause short and long term health complications, including chronic pain, infections, increased risk of HIV transmission, anxiety and depression, birth complications, infertility and, in the worst cases, death.
In societies where it is practised, FGM is a manifestation of deeply entrenched gender inequality. In some Kenyan societies, for example, within the socio-cultural context, initiation of girls through circumcision marks the rite of passage from childhood to adulthood, enhances social acceptance as well as induction on societal expectations to the initiators. It is also a precursor to child marriage.
However, this tide is changing. Kenya outlawed FGM in 2001 and a second set of laws passed in 2011 made it illegal to promote or facilitate what used to be known as female circumcision, and stiffened penalties.
A joint programme in 2008 by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) has played a catalytic role in ending the rite of passage. This was primarily through policy formulation, legislation and high level advocacy which are crucial platforms for partners to jointly plan, execute programmes to end FGM, share success stories and challenges.
Additionally, the high-level advocacy by senior government officials including President Uhuru Kenyatta and the First Lady’s Beyond Zero Campaign has significantly contributed to the clarion call for an end to FGM. Also in their visits to Kenya, US President Obama and the Pope exhorted communities to abandon cultures that oppress women, including gender violence and FGM.
The government’s Anti-FGM Board leads in coordination and accelerating the end of FGM.
The joint programme has also found support from various groups which include parliamentarians who continue to advocate for implementation of the FGM Act, which they played a key role in enacting in 2011.
In addition, the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions has established the Anti-FGM and Child Marriage Prosecution Unit to fast-track the prosecution of FGM and child marriage cases. Prosecution officers have been trained on FGM prevention and response in order to handle FGM cases properly. This has strengthened the officers’ response through activation of an FGM Hotline 0770 610 505.
As a result of the above interventions, there is good progress in the implementation of the FGM Act. However, FGM is still endemic despite the existence of legislation, administrative directives, judicial sanctions, and awareness-raising efforts by a variety of agencies and the government.
The UNFPA-Unicef joint programme is implementing various approaches to end FGM. The programme endorses Alternative Rites of Passage (ARP). It consists of a series of activities replacing the harmful FGM with non-harmful traditional rituals highlighting girls’ initiation into adulthood. It is a way for the family and community to mark this important moment in an adolescent girl’s life, without any alteration of any type to the girl’s body.
Boys are encouraged to participate in alternative rites of passage in the home so that information imparted to them during ARP training sessions will empower them to make informed appropriate choices concerning their future, including marrying uncircumcised girls. The two agencies also mentor and impart skills on both girls and boys. This strategy has led to having role models/champions in communities who also create awareness on FGM to other boys and girls. The mentorship aims to develop knowledge, attitudes and skills needed to take positive actions on harmful cultural practices.
It is also giving communities a neutral platform to discuss harmful practices. Through dialogue, community members, particularly women, have had their fears addressed on acceptability of their daughters in the community. These dialogues are important in ensuring communities have collective responsibility in abandoning harmful cultural practices including early, forced and child marriages. They are also a platform where community and religious leaders make public declarations against FGM.
Through International days such as Zero Tolerance Day, the just concluded 16 days of activism in December 2016, and others, advocacy forums and events are held to educate the public on FGM issues
The media has played a crucial role in highlighting FGM as an issue of national concern, providing an enabling platform for community dialogue on FGM.
Partnering with health care workers is also key to the prevention and response to medicalisation of the FGM practice in counties. Over 200 health care providers have been trained on prevention of medicalisation through the UNFPA/Unicef joint programme.
In the changing face of FGM cases have been reported where celebrations were held in churches and nurses or doctors were carrying out the procedure covertly in hospitals and clinics. Girls would be admitted to hospital on the pretence that they are ill and then FGM would be performed. It is expected that including health care workers will lead to anti-FGM issues being integrated and expended into reproductive health policies, planning and programming.
The programme used FGM networks in focus counties. The networks’ membership are drawn from line government ministries such as gender, health, prosecution and education as well as various NGOs, faith and community based organisations. They meet to share experiences and discuss challenges and referral mechanisms to make sure the services are linked and well-coordinated.
Girls are probably world’s greatest
untapped human resource, and there is absolutely no place for FGM and child marriage, especially in a world where empowered girls lead the way into a better future.
Let’s come together to create an environment in which girls can develop, advance and achieve their potential.