War on FGM intensified during the long festive holiday
Tharaka Nithi County is among 22 devolved units that are hotspots for the outdated cultural practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), though this is done secretly.
But efforts by the government and non-governmental organisations to end the illegal practice are lowly bearing fruit.
To avoid suspicion by the neighbours and administrators, girls visit their relatives in other villages and get the ‘cut’ and return home after healing.
With the number of traditional circumcisers dwindling, cases of health officers conducting FGM have also been reported, making the war against the illegal practice harder.
Last year, the county assembly adopted an Anti-FGM policy, recommending a raft of measures including creating ward-level anti-FGM policy committees and allowing the county government to allocate funds for the war against the practice.
The policy also recommends setting up a digital information management system to aid in research and analysis of the anti-FGM war.
Children as young as 10 undergo FGM due to pressure from age mates, parents and their grandparents, while married women are mainly forced to get the cut by their husbands or parents-in-law who insist that uncircumcised women should not be married in their families.
Cases of women circumcising themselves due to pressure from the community that treats them as outcasts have also been recorded in Tharaka North.
During the long December holidays, the government and other stakeholders are keen to ensure that schoolgirls are not ‘cut’, with some NGOs organising alternative rite-of-passage seminars.
The Tharaka Women Welfare Programme (TWWP), which started an alternative rite of passage campaign back in 1996, will be training at least 350 girls this season on the dangers of FGM.
During the one-week training, the girls will also be taught moral values and the importance of education, among others.
Speaking to Nation.Africa, TWWP coordinator Aniceta Kiriga said FGM is “deep-rotted” and the best way to fight it is to replace it with an alternative rite of passage.
“[That] is what our organisation has been doing since 1996, locally known as ‘Ntanira na mugambo’, loosely translated as circumcising with words,” Ms Kiriga said.
She noted that the first girls to go through the alternative rite of passage became anti-FGM ambassadors and are now mothers taking their daughters through the same programme.
Ms Kiriga said the alternative rite of passage is the brainchild of the TWWP but had been embraced by many organisations across the country.
Enlightened Generation International Director Kelly Rwigi said though former President Uhuru Kenyatta had projected the end of FGM by this year, the war is not yet over.
She said that besides FGM, Kenya is also struggling with other forms of gender-based violence and that 40 percent of women in the country have experienced some form of gender violence despite existing policies.
She said as the world marks the annual 16 days of activism against violence meted out on women and girls, there is a need to adopt stricter measures that would bring down cases.
Ms Rwigi said cases of teenage pregnancies, defilement, rape and early marriages are rampant and a large percentage of them are never reported to the authorities for legal action.
“We need to protect our women and girls who are going through a lot of violence and Enlightened Generation International will not shy away from highlighting the cases and ensuring that the perpetrators face the law,” she said.
The Njuri Ncheke council of elders has also joined the war against FGM and has promised to be vigilant during the holidays.