Intense awareness campaign key to ending FGM

Harmful traditional practices are mostly culture-based and committed against people, usually girls and women. They include child forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • According to the 2022 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, the country has 15 per cent prevalence, meaning 15 in 100 girls and women aged 15–49 have undergone the cut.
  • This remains high, notwithstanding the progress recorded over the years.

Female genital mutilation (FGM), also called female circumcision and entails altering or partly cutting the female genitalia on nonmedical grounds, remains a thorn in the flesh of many women and girls in Kenya and beyond.

Survivors know all too well the pain it causes, both short-term and long-term. Imagine a world without all that! It’s possible but requires intense awareness, and Kenya must do its part.

According to the 2022 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, the country has 15 per cent prevalence, meaning 15 in 100 girls and women aged 15–49 have undergone the cut. This is still high, notwithstanding the remarkable progress recorded over the years.

In communities where the ritual persists, social pressure due to culture is a key motivator. And in the absence of awareness, girls brought up in patriarchal settings view the practice as a rite they must embrace, oblivious to the fact that it violates their rights and is a form of gender-based violence.

The harmful psychological and physical consequences of the outlawed cultural practice are far-reaching, even though perpetrators do not intend to inflict harm.

The government had set the end of last year as the deadline for eliminating FGM in Kenya. Unfortunately, this was not achieved. But the war remains on course.

So, in line with the spirit of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5 on Gender Equality, we must not lose sight of the 2030 deadline, which is only seven years away.

With that in mind, the Anti-FGM Board, established in 2013 following the passage of the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act, 2011, has its work cut out. Its role is crucial.

Notably, however, this campaign is not theirs alone to mount. Collective and deliberate efforts have to be made to mop up the remaining pockets of resistance in hotspot counties.

In some communities, the prevalence rises as high as 94 per cent. This, therefore, means unless awareness campaigns are intensified and more workable socioeconomic empowerment measures adopted, including cross-border programmes, future generations will hold on to the practice, albeit in reduced numbers, to the suffering of a significant proportion of the population.

We must act effectively and decisively within the confines of the law and spread positive messages, considering that FGM is rooted in power imbalances and gender inequality that spread into other spheres of life.

Communities have no right to continue compounding women’s and girls’ problems, hence the need to change sociocultural norms that perpetuate this practice.

It is further imperative to note that doing so should include tackling other forms of gender-based violence taking place within our communities, institutions and families, including sexual, physical and psychological violence, as well as child marriages.

The progress made so far is laudable and victory is no doubt in sight. But, as captured under the Saleema Initiative, which supports the protection of girls against FGM, we must not be afraid of change; we must make our society change for the better. 

Today, many villages have eliminated the practice, thanks to advocacy by different state and non-state actors. It has been an incredible run.