Mention of 2022 immediately leads Kenyans to the forthcoming general election, the anxiety about it notwithstanding. But there is a more critical event than the polls.
On June 4, 2019, President Uhuru Kenyatta gave a firm guarantee and assurance to the largest global convention for gender equality, wellbeing of women and health rights that he would bring to an end the problematic and regressive female genital mutilation/cut (FGM) at the end of his term — in August next year. Speaking at the Women Deliver Conference in Vancouver, Canada, President Kenyatta undertook to ensure that his government ends the ruinous practice by 2022.
On returning home four days later, the President followed up the resolve — which is eight years ahead of the global 2030 target through Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — by bringing together at State House Nairobi community elders and religious leaders from the 22 FGM-prevalent counties, who made a declaration and commitment to help in eradicating the criminality.
A week later, at the historic International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD+25) summit in Nairobi, President Kenyatta made what I consider his most passionate and memorable speech yet on empowerment, health, rights and the place of women generally on gender equality: He restated a personal pledge to lead the effort to bring to an end the harmful practice, which he described as one of the most serious violations of the human rights of women and girls.
Earlier, in April of the same year, the leadership of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia and Ethiopia had signed a groundbreaking statement to combat the regressive practice. Sadly, the practice thrives along the common borders with unscrupulous individuals using that commonality to cross over and subject girls to the horrible abuse undetected.
The State House meeting, also attended by First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, resolved to enforce, respect and adhere to the law as stipulated in The Prohibition of FGM Act 2011, which has been ignored by communities who still carry out FGM.
Further, during the occasion, the President described the archaic practice — which is not only an abuse of the dignity, violations of the rights of girls and women but also a gender-based violence (GBV) issue — as “an assault of our individual and national conscience”.
A stern warning was then sent in the way of government officials and administrators — especially those on the ground, who deal directly with communities — against abetting the practice. This came appropriately and at the right time, given that the officials are largely known to be one barrier to the elimination of FGM, whose consequences have seen hundreds of underage girls drop out of school to be married off or simply get wasted on falling victim to child motherhood.
While some still hold firmly to their cultural beliefs — never mind how obsolete they are — the officers get compromised and look the other way. As long as these wayward officials and their corrupt accomplices continue to break the law, the presidential deadline will be frustrated.
That then calls for more vigilance by the line ministries tasked with leading and championing the undertaking to eliminate FGM. They have a duty and obligation to ensure that the deadline is met. Let them put all the government’s machinery at their disposal in motion and do so.
There is hope though. Efforts to beat the deadline are remarkably mounting, as evinced by the vibrancy of this conversation among interest groups, fronted by the civil society, the government and its partners and the media. Encouraging, too, is that journalists and related organisations have put up a spirited effort to keep the campaign on track.
For instance, the August 31 round-table convened by Journalists for Human Rights, through its project, Voice for Women and Girls’ Rights-Kenya (VWGRs), brought together the media, civil society and decision-makers to track progress. The Anti-FGM Board, established to spearhead eradication of the vice by implementing and enhancing the Act, gave an enlightening presentation.
Clearly, the effort needs the support of all.
Ms Rugene, a consulting editor, is founder, The Woman’s Newsroom Foundation. [email protected] @nrugene