In 2012, the UN General Assembly designated February 6, as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
The day is meant to amplify and direct efforts on the elimination of this practice that continues be practiced in many countries worldwide.
And as the day is marked worldwide today, here in Kenya, the government’s spirited efforts to end the menace has not been successful as the practice remains rampant in some communities.
According to 28 Too Many, a values based charity working to end FGM in Africa, the prevalence of the rite is still high.
In Kenya, the report by 28 Too Many says FGM has reduced by ten per cent in the last ten years.
Demographic Health Survey recorded FGM prevalence in 15-49 years old reducing from 37 per cent in 1998 to 32.2 per cent in 2003, to a further 27.1 per cent in 2009.
The report ranked FGM as highest in Somali community at 97 per cent, followed by Kisii at 96.1 and Maasai 73.2 per cent, respectively.
It is against this backdrop that the Kenyan government last year, changed tact in the fight against FGM.
It launched the National Policy on Abandonment of Female Genital Mutilation 2019, which lays emphasis on stakeholders to slay the dragon once and for all by 2022.
The policy has placed those subjected to and at risk of FGM, religious leaders, traditional justice systems in FGM practicing communities and stakeholders involved in Anti-FGM advocacy at the centre of the campaign.
In the past, the provincial administration among them chiefs and their assistants, and the police have spearheaded the fight.
Some of the new policy’s objectives include strengthening multi-sectorial interventions, partnership and community participation in fighting the menace.
President Uhuru Kenyatta while launching the policy described the rite as an archaic cultural practice.
“FGM is a retrogressive practice whose continued existence in our country in actual fact assaults our individual and our national consciousness. The practice is inimical to our shared fundamental values as enshrined in our very own constitution that we as Kenyans passed,” the President said.
Cabinet Secretary for Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs Prof Margaret Kobia said the policy is anchored on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) goal number five of gender equality.
She added the new policy is necessitated by the need to address emerging trends that have contributed to the slow decline in the practice.
The CS said her ministry through the anti-FGM board, will provide leadership in the implementation, monitoring, evaluation and reporting of the policy. The opinion leaders were drawn from 22 counties, most affected by FGM.
The elders as part of their anti-FGM efforts, committed to work with both the national and county governments and other stakeholders to create awareness within their communities on the need to promote education and the wellbeing of the girl-child.
A section of gender and human rights activists, however, feel the policy is not enough and must be accompanied by requisite budget to make it a success.
Gladys Chania a gender activist/counselling psychologist says there is more to the FGM fight than the policy.
“The capacity and civic education awareness of FGM is slow to reach on the ground. Officers assigned in implementation are lazy in disseminating information or have no facilitation to the grassroots. Anti-FGM war does not happen in boardrooms it should happen at the community level,” says Ms Chania.
Ms Isabella Mwangi, Access to Justice Officer at Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW), an anti-FGM advocacy organization, however, says the policy’s emphasis on data collation and awareness illuminates hope for successful anti-FGM campaigns.
“For a long time, data has been a problem…we do not have data to support our facts. With data, it would be possible to design gender responsive strategies that would eventually result to communities free from FGM,” she says.
“Data will help us to understand where it (FGM) is reducing, why and what the best practices to be replicated in other areas are,” she notes.
She is, however, concerned that the policy fails to offer concrete strategies to address challenges such as infant FGM, cross-border practice and medicalisation of the cut.
“We cannot ignore the cross-trend where, for instance, a girl in Nyamira is taken to Uganda for the cut and returns home like nothing happened. Again, medicalisation of FGM where one undergoes the cut in the name of a normal surgical operation. Another new trend is where children are mutilated at birth,” she notes.
Despite of the gaps in the policy, Ms Mwangi believes the battle can be won if the political goodwill heralded by the president is maintained.
“The local administration is alert now. What we expect to see is the rise of prosecution which would deter others,” she states.
But these surveillance need to be accompanied with community driven awareness for the fight against FGM to be won, she adds.
“Everyone is asking ‘what is the harm?’ But no one is talking about the real issue - the long term effects of FGM on women,” she says.
Ms Grace Lolim,Executive Director, Isiolo Gender Watch, which runs anti-FGM campaigns in Isiolo and Marsabit counties, says the policy would only make a difference if communities are aware of its principles.
“Presently, people do not even know what FGM Act is about. So, what will become of the policy?” she queries.
To increase level of awareness in the local communities, she urges the government to publish the anti-FGM Act and policy in Swahili and local languages before distributing to the people.