Emerging trends block progress against FGM

Wednesday, November 13th, 2019 07:46 |

The award Robi Marwa received at the 2019 Mashujaa Day celebrations was a mark of years of dedication and work. 

The state recognised her as a role model in the fight against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) for rescuing many girls and ensuring they are educated.

Robi considers herself the first woman to ever escape the cut in Kuria, Migori county. In the 70s, the practice in the Kuria community was a mandatory rite of passage and any violation of this rite meant isolation and stigma. For Robi, the refusal by her father to have his children cut turned the whole community against them.

“Most of my age-mates went through the cut and got married soon after. I was the only girl in my class during my CPE exams. My family wasn’t allowed to sell or buy goods within the area. It was said that we were cursed. 

“From school I couldn’t use the main route, as I was afraid of being stoned. I was referred to as mosaga, the one who hasn’t been circumcised,” she says. 

After her course at the Machakos Teaching College, Robi, a former teacher, has saved more than 400 girls from her community. As much as she has partnered with religious leaders to save young girls, the practice is still rampant in the area and still considered an important rite of passage. This, in turn, translates to high rates of early child marriages and low levels of education among girls.

Robi says education propelled her towards life. She runs Kuria Girl Child Rescue Centre, a community-based organisation, where she educates, encourages and helps girls with self-confidence. She is also the author of Complete without a Cut. 

High prevalence

Migori is one of the 22 counties with the highest FGM prevalence in the country. Others include West Pokot, Baringo, Elgeyo Marakwet, Wajir, Isiolo, Mandera, Marsabit, Garissa, Narok, Kajiado, Samburu, Meru, Taita Taveta, Tana River, Laikipia, Migori, Embu, Meru, Tharaka Nithi, Kisii, Bomet and Bungoma. 

Leaders from these counties converged in Nairobi for high level elders’ anti- FGM forum, the first of its kind. They recommitted to fighting the vice, which has been for long associated with religious and cultural practices. 

“In Kenya, these communities assume FGM and child marriage protect girls from social and economic risks. They are driven by poverty and lack of economic opportunity for girls and their households.  FGM lies at the intersection of very sensitive issues mostly being patriarchy, gender roles, women’s reproduction, and men’s perceptions of women’s sexuality. 

FGM is also a clear example of gender-based violence that is sustained by women performing the practice. In a research done by Unicef, the most frequently cited reason for supporting FGM was ‘social acceptance,” said PS State of department of Gender Affairs, Safina Kwekwe.

The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2014 indicates that in Kenya, FGM prevalence is at 21 per cent, which accounts for 9.3 million girls and women in the country and six per cent of the estimated 100 girls and women who have undergone the practice globally.

Among the danger of FGM, according to the World Health Organisation, includes severe pain during and after the cutting process, excessive bleeding, shock, infections including HIV and death. In the long-term, it leads to menstrual and urination problems; obstetric complications including post-partum bleeding and difficult labour; fistula, still births and neonatal deaths as well as psychological complications. 

Concealment efforts

In Kenya, FGM is illegal under the Prohibition of FGM Act 2011, however, communities have put up new measures to evade the law including preforming FGM in a private setting as compared to communal celebrations and having medical practitioners conduct the practice, according to the National Policy For The Eradication Of Female Genital Mutilation launched last week. 

“A number of communities including the Maasai, Pokot, Somali and Kuria cross to neighbouring counties to procure FGM to avoid being caught by law enforcers,” says the policy, which seeks to strengthen coordination and implementation of existing legislation to combat the perpetuation of the vice.  

Some actions within the policy include the inclusion of FGM content in the curriculum, strengthening capacities of institutions and community to prevent and respond to the vice, address emerging trends including working with regional bodies to hinder cross-border FGM and promotion women’s and girls’ empowerment.

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