Female circumcision was high on the agenda at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD+25) held in Nairobi on November 12-14.
Besides, Sustainable Development Goal 5 has one of its targets as the elimination of all harmful practices like the female ‘cut’.
In a statement to the Elders Forum on November 7 to end the practice, President Uhuru Kenyatta lamented that 9.3 million girls in Kenya have gone through the ‘cut’ over the years.
Now the government has promised to have wiped out FGM (female genital mutilation) by 2022.
However, that can only succeed if we change tack. And the best strategy is not leaving anyone behind.
Novel approaches could help to reduce the number of women and girls exposed to the harmful practice; else, the goal of ending FGM will remain an illusion.
One such approach is the deliberate inclusion of men and boys, particularly from the rural areas, in safeguarding rights for girls and women.
Until the menfolk understand the pain that girls and women who are subjected to the cut go through, and the effects of that action, they can do little to support the anti-FGM activists and crusaders against the vice.
More importantly, creatively get alternative income for those who profit from the practice while putting emphasis on sharing of stories by survivors.
The use of testimonies has long been overlooked to a great extent. Getting empowered women to discuss how they felt after the ‘cut’ and what they experience daily would get everyone involved in ending it.
At an advocacy campaign that I ran in 2004-7 in Rongai Constituency, Nakuru County, many empowered women told of how they continued to suffer silently, experiencing pain even in old age, long after menopause.
One woman stunned the meeting when she revealed how she had devised a travelling plan to ease her pain. She could hardly stay with her husband for a week.
Besides feigning sickness, she resorted to visiting her grandchildren regularly — in a bid to avoid intimacy with her husband of more than 30 years.
While FGM numbers have gone down globally, in Kenya, women and girls still undergo the cut, particularly towards the end of every year, under the guise of end-of-year celebrations and cultural rites of passage.
Celebrating our culture should not be to the detriment of other people’s rights or harming and humiliating women, and especially interfering with their reproductive organs.
Alternative rites of passage have been synonymous with advocacy to end the ‘cut’, but these alone cannot be effective if communities are not involved from the start.
Using the might of the law has not yielded much either. For instance, during the FGM season in Kuria County, most parents assist their girls to cross the border to Tanzania, where the cut is a way of life, to be housed and nursed.
FGM and other negative cultural practices strip women of their dignity and can lead to lifelong health consequences such as chronic genital infections, Keloids and obstetric complications. The practice is also a violation of their rights.
The earlier we end FGM, the better for our next generation.
Ms Murutu, a women’s rights activist, is a Rotary Peace Fellow at Chulalongkorn University, Thailand. [email protected] @MurutuJane