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Legalise Female Genital Mutilation, says doctor in court

Thursday January 18 2018

Tatu Kamau

Dr Tatu Kamau at the Machakos High Court on January 17, 2018 after filing a case in which she is seeking to have female circumcision legalised. PHOTO | COURTESY 

STEPHEN MUTHINI
By STEPHEN MUTHINI
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A medical doctor has filed a case at the Machakos High Court seeking to have female circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation (FGM), legalised.

Dr Tatu Kamau, in the case  before Justice David Kemei on Wednesday, also wants the Anti-FGM Board, which has been spearheading the campaign against the practice, abolished.

Speaking to the Press after filing the case, Dr Kamau said the outlawing of female circumcision is against the culture of many African communities and should be reviewed.

She said all females, especially adults, should be allowed to make choices regarding their bodies without being restricted by legislation.

Dr Kamau, who is not represented by a lawyer, added that the term FGM is a “misnomer” as Westerners, who coined it, are now practising it, only that they now refer to it as "female genital surgery".

“It is a label given to us by those who do not understand it,” she said of the practice and its legal name, adding that female circumcision was part of African cultural practices before the advent of colonialism and should not be criminalised.

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HARASSED

Her major argument is that many women have been harassed by the state and even jailed because of the practice, which should not be the case as adults should be allowed to exercise their choices.

“Much as we want to protect the girl, there are many women who have been harassed and jailed in the last three years.

Once you reach adulthood there is no reason why you should not make that decision,” she said.

Legalising female circumcision will make it easy for those who want to undergo it to seek the best medical services, thus making the procedure safe, she added.

“Female circumcision is practised differently from one community to another, but it can be made safe. It is a minor surgical procedure that does not require anaesthesia or being put into a theatre.”

Dr Kamau said that, just as people are discouraged from smoking or drinking alcohol, the gospel against mandatory circumcision as a cultural right of passage should continue, but those who choose to go under the knife should not be arrested.

CULTURAL ISSUE

She took issue with Parliament’s decision to legislate on a cultural issue, saying lawmakers overstretched their mandate.

“If Parliament can try to abolish a culture, tomorrow it will abolish religion or something else. The Anti-FGM Act is a bad precedence of trying to micro-manage our culture,” she observed.

Anti-FGM Board chief executive officer Bernadette Loloju, however, said they were against the practice because of the negative effects it has had on women with regards to reproduction issues.

She said the campaign has been successful as prevalence had dropped from 37 per cent in 2008 to 21 per cent in 2014, according to the most recent demographic health survey. However, most cuts are now performed in secrecy for fear of legal reprisals on both the victims and the traditional surgeons. Children are also being circumcised at a tender age, and often at night.

EVIDENCE ACT

Twenty prosecutors  have been assigned to specifically deal with FGM cases, but Ms Loloju observed it is not easy to try FGM cases because of the evidence Act.

Among the measures that the Anti-FGM Board is taking to keep the campaign momentum is to come up with guidelines on community dialogue on why the practice is bad, Ms Loloju said. 

It is also bringing younger men on board in the campaign against FGM, and is already engaging Maasai morans in Kajiado and elsewhere.

“We are bringing the younger men on board because they are the ones who will bring the practice to an end. They are the ones who will decide whether to marry a woman who is uncut or not,” said Ms Loloju.

The case by Dr Kamau will be heard on February 26.

Editor's note: The caption of a photo accompanying an earlier version of this story incorrectly named Anti-FGM Board Chief Executive Officer Bernadette Loloju as Dr Tatu Kamau. We apologise to Ms Loloju and Dr Kamau for any embarrassment caused.