February 6 was set aside to create awareness on one of the most serious violations of the rights of girls and women, where communities seek to control their sexuality.
As part of efforts to eradicate female genital mutilation (also known as female genital cutting), in 2003, the United Nations introduced The International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). In my view, it was also to rally the world around the need and urgency to end this retrogressive practice.
In Kenya, statistics show, 21 per cent of women — one of the world’s highest — have undergone FGM. The obnoxious cut remains a major challenge as, along with other human rights abuses, key among them the vexing and bothersome child marriage, girls drop out of school and suffer the resultant socioeconomic difficulties.
But it is heartening that there is collaboration, synergy, harmony, genuine and generally focused concerted efforts by the government, NGOs as well as some communities to stamp out the retrogressive practice where girls as young as 12, or younger, are subjected to the severest forms of FGM in the name of culture — despite it being outlawed and criminalised.
There is also light at the end of the tunnel with indications that the practice is going down, albeit slowly, thanks to the hard work being put into its eradication.
Despite the efforts, including positive measures taken by the national government and its partners and empowerment and sensitisation campaigns by the civil society, communities and families continue to perform the harmful FGM on girls.
For those who have followed the anti-FGM campaigns closely, specific organisations have been constantly turning around their strategies as they strive to find better ways to obliterate the vice. Working directly with and within communities and involvement of both genders as well as young people is a strategy that is likely to produce positive results in weeding out the practice.
And while at it, it is critical that these efforts do not include any action(s) that may stigmatise or condemn communities over the practice. It calls for a delicate balancing act. Further, this calls for constant change of strategy by all those working to abolish FGM FGM-including national and county governments.
The commitment by the national government and especially the leadership to abolish FGM, is laudable, but it requires the support of those who care about the welfare of girls and women, and, indeed, for the society’s good.
Last June, President Uhuru Kenyatta declared, on an international platform, his government’s commitment to eradicate FGM. At the Women Deliver conference in Vancouver, Canada, he gave a personal pledge to end it by 2022. Later in Nairobi, at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD+25) in November, he restated his commitment.
If post-Vancouver, and immediately before — including last April, when the government signed a declaration with Tanzania, Uganda, Somalia and Ethiopia to address cross-border FGM — is anything to go by, we are on the right path.
It is now behoves the right-thinking members of the society to support this effort.
In addition, the anti-FGM war must go hand in hand with an equal focus to eradicate obstetric fistula — a childbirth injury and severe medical condition caused by prolonged and obstructed labour. Though preventable and largely treatable, the condition, which leaves its victim with constant leaking of urine and faeces, continues to devastate women, including minors subjected to early marriages.
Fistula victims, many of whom are in Africa, are usually vulnerable women and girls from poor backgrounds whose inability to get medical treatment leaves them deprived of their dignity and rights as human beings.
This is a call for more structured and dedicated campaigns to end fistula, which is rampant in specific counties, and retrogressive cultural practices such as child marriage and FGM.
Ms Rugene is consulting editor. [email protected] @nrugene