In November 2019, President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the National Policy on Abandonment of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) which kicked off the campaign to eradicate FGM in the country by 2022.
The launch was followed by a presidential directive that emphasised on the government and the country to permanently eradicate the outlawed practice in the county.
And now with only slightly under one year left to the 2022 deadline, we interrogate the achievements and strides made in the national campaign to eradicate the outlawed practice in the country.
So far, the government and other non-state actors have made major strides in trying to win the decades-long cultural practice that has seen millions of Kenyan girls and women undergo the cut.
Gender Cabinet Secretary Prof Margaret Kobia in September last year lifted the lid on achievements so far made in the battle to eradicate the vice.
Prof Kobia noted that already, great progress has been made to end this harmful practice in the region which has among the highest FGM prevalence in the country.
The CS revealed among the initiatives so far taken by the government include revising the eradication of FGM Policy to align it with current realities, developments and the Constitution.
She added that the ministry has also developed focused interventions to address FGM in key sectors such as health, education, security, access to justice and public information while emphasising participation as human rights approach to empowering girls and women.
The CS said her ministry has also developed nine 'Programmes of Actions' which aimed at helping the government eradicate the vice by 2020.
Prof Kobia said the programmes include promoting education and community dialogues, enforcement of FGM laws, engaging boys and men, girls and women and entrenching FGM content in schools among others.
Other programmes include strengthening capacity building, addressing cross-border FGM, addressing FGM in emergencies and humanitarian situation and women empowerment.
“County Anti-FGM Steering Committees chaired by the County Commissioners have been establishes which will be responsible for providing county-specific strategic policy direction, mobilizing resources for FGM prevention and response besides being part of an integral part of the Inter-Governmental County Gender Sector Working Group,” she said.
Already, the initiative has stated to bear fruits after elders in West-Pokot and Marsabit counties denounced the practice terming it retrogressive and vowing to join hands with the government to eradicate the vice.
In August, Marakwet Cultural leader Mr Chelang’a Cheptoo also registered her support for the anti-FGM campaign.
He declared their commitment to end the vice adding that they will work with the government to make it a reality.
The Narok County Maasai Council of Elders also in September stated that FGM is no longer a cultural rite as it has been overtaken by events and proved to cause harm to women and girls.
In October last year, the Borana Council of Elders locally known as Guma Gayo also renounced FGM terming it as illegal and vowed to campaign against the practice.
Gender Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) Rachel Shebesh has been leading the campaign to prevail against circumcisers to abandon the illegal practice and join the campaign to end FGM.
Already, several circumcisers in Garrisa, Tana River and Wajir counties have abandoned the vice and joined the anti-FGM campaign.
A case in point is that of Ms Galina Gurre from Garissa who during a meeting attended by Ms Shebesh downed her 'tools of trade' and pledged to be an anti-FGM crusader in her locality.
After succeeding in converting the circumcisers from practicing the outlawed practice, the government is in return using them as anti-FGM champions in their respective communities.
Abandon harmful practice
Speaking in Tana-River County during an anti-FGM awareness tour recently, Ms Shebesh at the time said to prevent the circumcisers’ from going back to the outlawed practice, the government will link them to alternative sources of income.
This, she added, will be done through affirmative action funds domiciled at the Ministry of Gender which include the National Government Affirmative Action Fund (NGAAF), Women Enterprise Fund among others.
“We have to talk to them to abandon the harmful practice. Ending FGM is very important to the wellbeing of girls and women not just because it’s the law. The scars left after the act is committed are lifelong and women live with the trauma forever,” said Ms Shebesh.
The Anti-FGM Board Chairperson Ms Agnes Pareiyo said the agency is collaborating with church leaders to launch and undertake anti-FGM campaign in the 22 FGM hotspot counties.
“The church will be very instrumental in preaching to the residents on the dangers of circumcising girls,” said Ms Pareiyo at a meeting held in Narok.
However, despite the strides made so far, there still remain a myriad of challenges with scarce budgetary allocation, lack of political will and medicalisation of FGM being some of the major issues in the bid to end FGM.
Eva Komba, a Gender and Advocacy lead at Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Kenya Forum, said with more resources to facilitate anti-FGM efforts, the campaign can be realised.
Ms Komba added that there is also need to deal with structural issues at household and community level to deal with issues like poverty, gender inequalities, climate change which are some of the key issues that push communities’ to cut girls.
“Girls help families survive during times of scarcity of food and other resources. During this Covid-19 period, we have seen an increase in cutting of girls and is therefore time to address the societal economic issues that perpetuate FGM,” she said.
She added that FGM is normally used as a coping strategy where families turn on girls to be cut and married off in exchange for food and other resources which must be addressed.