'Mum Don't Cut Me' drive launched as FGM cases rise in Nairobi

From left: Anti-Female Genital Mutilation Board director Rashid Ali Omar, CEO Bernadette Resian Loloju, Nairobi County Gender and inclusivity Chief Officer Maryam Dahir and Nairobi Goevrnor's wife Beatrice Sakaja during the launch of the 'Hooyo Haigoynin' project, which aims to educate the Somali community in Eastleigh, Nairobi, on the negative impacts of FGM and other harmful practices that affect women and girls, at Best Western Meridian Hotel, Nairobi on February 2, 2023.

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru I Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The latest data from the Kenya Health Information System seen by Nation.Africa reinforces the assertions that the outlawed cultural practice is thriving in the city.
  • The data provided by county government shows more than 2000 women living in the city reported to various hospitals in 2022 with FGM-related complications.

Roslyne Mkabana recalled how five years ago she received a call from a community health worker (CHW) at Korogocho slums in Nairobi urging her to rush there immediately.

Ms Mkabana, who was in her office, told the caller she would not manage as she was busy. However, 10 minutes later, the CHW called her again, this time telling her to abandon whatever she was doing and make her way to the slum as the case at hand was serious.

Alarmed with the tone in her voice, Ms Mkabana, who is the head of Gender-Based Violence Unit at the County Government of Nairobi, dashed out of her office and hopped on a boda boda and headed straight to Korogocho.

On reaching there, she was ushered into a home where she found the body of a baby lying in a pool of blood. The seven-day-old baby had been subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) by a woman using her nails.

“The baby had bled to death after undergoing the heinous act. The scene was horrifying and it was painful to see the body of an innocent baby whose life had been taken away in the name of outdated cultural practices,” she said.

Ms Mkabana said the incident made them realise that FGM was rife in Nairobi, contrary to popular belief that it was only in being practised in rural areas.

The latest data from the Kenya Health Information System seen by Nation.Africa reinforces the assertions that the outlawed cultural practice is thriving in the city. The data provided by county government shows more than 2000 women living in the city reported to various hospitals in 2022 with FGM-related complications.

From January to December 2022, some 2,479 pregnant women and mothers who visited hospitals for antenatal care and delivery had complications associated with FGM.

Leading the pack in FGM cases in Kamukunji sub-county, which recorded 795 cases of pregnant women who visited various hospitals for antenatal clinics with FGM complications. Another 114 mothers experienced delivery complications associated with being cut.

Embakasi South comes second with 809 pregnant women with FGM complications visiting clinics in 2022. No mothers were recorded.

Things were no different in Embakasi East as 439 women and two mothers with FGM-related complications visited health facilities for antenatal and delivery service.

Heightened campaign

It is against this backdrop that several organisations have come together to fight FGM in Nairobi, with a special focus on Eastleigh.

Zinduka Kenya, in collaboration with Men End FGM Foundation, has launched a pilot programme to address FGM within the Somali community in Eastleigh, dubbed Hoiyo Haigoynin (Mum don’t cut me).

The pilot programme will be undertaken for 12 months. The Somali community has more than 90 per cent FGM prevalence.

Speaking during the launch in Nairobi, co-founder of Zinduka-Kenya Antonia Sophia Waskowiak said the project will be a game changer.

“We are going to fully support the implementation of this very important project to save girls and women from FGM. We will be engaging the girls, women, parents and men to enlighten them on the effects and dangers of this horrible outdated cultural practice,” said Ms Waskowiak.

The programme will bring on board religious leaders to help de-link FGM from Islam. The team will organize a cultural night to mark the International Day of African Child and community sensitisation through home-based visits.

There will also be survivor engagements, town hall meetings and FGM-related teachings in select Madrasa classes.

Already, 11 community project facilitators have been trained and the project manual and guidelines developed. The project will also support bimonthly stakeholder meetings from FGM hotspots in Nairobi to review progress, address gaps and share best practice in addition to providing reports to relevant agencies.

The Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS) 2022 released last month shows the great strides Kenya has made in the war on FGM, with the national prevalence dropping from 21 per cent in 2014 to 15 per cent currently.

Tony Mwebia, the founder Men End FGM, noted the need to sensitise Nairobi residents to the dangers of FGM. He regretted that some families living abroad and in other Kenyan towns are bringing back their girls and women in Eastleigh to be cut.

Deep-rooted beliefs

“This is the time to do away with outdated cultural beliefs that girls who have been cut attract more [reverse] dowry and suitors. Both men and women from communities still practising it need to denounce the vice,” he said, urging hotspot counties to increase budgetary allocation to help fight the vice.

Ms Mkabana noted even if 70 per cent of FGM cases comes from Eastleigh, which is home to the Somali community, they have also been recording increased numbers from women and girls from Kuria, Kisii and Taita communities.

Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja’s wife, Beatrice, said her office will be at the forefront of championing the fight against the vice. She said the county will map out sub-counties where FGM is rampant and strengthen mechanisms through prevention strategies by community health volunteers.

“We will seek to provide funding for reproductive maternal neonatal child health budget where FGM is anchored,” she said.

Rashid Ali Omara, a member of the Anti-FGM Board, said FGM has no basis in Islam and urged the Somali community to shun it. He accused some sheikhs of abetting the cut, adding, however, that the current statistics are encouraging

“It is not there in the Quran and we are working on a modality to have all prominent sheikhs denounce FGM,” he said.

Anti-FGM Board CEO Bernadette Loloju lauded the project and pledged to offer necessary support to eradicate the cut. She acknowledged that the Northern-Eastern region has been the biggest headache in FGM fight, regretting that women are the worst perpetrators of FGM as it is the mothers, grandmothers and aunties who push girls to undergo the illegal procedure.

“All we are asking women who have been cut is to stop cutting the daughters. They should also stop forcing their sons to only marry girls who have been cut. Two wrongs do not make a right,” said Ms Loloju.

Eastleigh is predominantly occupied by the Somali and Borana community and is home to more than 90 per cent of refugees from Somalia and Ethiopia. The two communities have recorded the highest FGM prevalence in Kenya, with the Somali community at 94 per cent and the Borana at 91 per cent, according to KDHS2014 and Amref (2016) respectively.