About a week ago, a sad and sickening occurrence was brought before a group of members of the Association of Media Women in Kenya by a distraught colleague. She was inviting fellow women journalists to help her to “digest” and possibly deal with the disgusting situation reported to her by a relative.
Desperate family members of a young woman who had been battling mental health issues decided to seek help from a clergyman, described as a prophet. The “prophet” then decreed that the 31-year-old from Nakuru County be circumcised. This had to be done, claimed the “prophet”, to appease the Gikuyu “gods”, who were “unhappy” because some “critical traditional practices” had been ignored.
The family went ahead and followed the “advice” and the young woman was forced to undergo the indignity of having her flesh cut off. Shockingly, all indications are that this criminal act — the genital mutilation — may have been carried out at a medical facility. And that was last month, not 10th Century!
That violation of rights of women and girls through abuses such female genital mutilation (FGM) is a matter that has to be addressed with more seriousness. It is critical that communities be more involved and empowered to fight against this blatant violation and arrogant invasion and entitlement to women’s bodies in the name of culture and traditions. The culprits should be arrested, prosecuted and punished as a warning.
However, there has to be empowerment at the community level so that Kenyans would have the confidence to report or catch such criminals in their midst and have them face the law. That way, communities may just help to safeguard the rights of girls and women and guard against human rights violations.
I am hopeful that the push to have all communities abandon the retrogressive practice will bear fruit, going by the government’s commitment to it.
The pledge by President Uhuru Kenyatta at this year’s Women Deliver — the world’s biggest gender equality conference — in Vancouver, Canada, early last month gives me the good feeling. The President also gave a target: To ensure an end to the practice by the end of his term in 2022.
And last Thursday in Nairobi, Deputy President William Ruto followed up the President’s undertaking when he witnessed the launch of an initiative whose objective is to eliminate FGM, that backward practice that adversely affects the development of women and girls. And as Dr Ruto rightly put it, FGM is among retrogressive activities and violations that come in the way of attaining gender equality in the country.
There are individuals and organisations that stand out in the fight against FGM. Theirs is usually a huge task, especially within communities where the despicable practice is deeply entrenched. But the commitment — by women rights campaigners such as the Coalition on Violence Against Women (Covaw) and Orchid Project — is remarkable. That is why the new End FGM Beads Initiative, spearheaded by Ushanga Kenya and backed by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the government through the Anti-FGM Board, is welcome.
It is hoped that this team will make progress, given their strategy of enlisting women in communities that practise it into an economic initiative. As such, they will be seeking to hit two birds with one stone: Fight poverty and empower women and bring to an end the cycle of sexual violence as well as FGM, whose prevalence in women aged 15-49 is 21 per cent.
Hellen Nkaissery, Ushanga Kenya’s chairperson, says in trying to get the targeted communities to abandon their age-old practice of female circumcision, they will “talk to them in the language that they understand, through the beads” and have them “stand firm to say they are against FGM” as well as child marriages.
All must support efforts to end practices that violate the rights of girls and women and dim their hopes of leading the dignified lives they deserve.
Ms Rugene is a consulting editor. [email protected] @nrugene