UHURU & NATALIA: To win FGM war, we must listen to and support youth

Thursday, February 6th, 2020 00:00 |
FGM in Kenya. Photo/Courtesy

By President Uhuru Kenyatta and UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of United Nations Population Fund, Natalia Kanem       

Female Genital Mutilation is one of the most horrific human rights violations that negatively affects the health, education and overall development of women and girls. 

With 200 million women and girls affected, ending this harmful practice is an urgent moral imperative.

Although we have made tangible progress in the 25 years since the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, where countries agreed to end the practice, we are currently facing headwinds.

In the places where it is most prevalent, FGM is declining but not at the speed and scale that is required to meet global commitments. 

However, these same countries are experiencing high rates of population growth – meaning that if the practice persists at current levels, the number of girls affected would continue to grow. 

In 2019 alone, more than four million girls were victims of FGM, and if urgent action is not taken, up to 68 million could be subjected to the practice by 2030.

So how can we accelerate progress by the end of the decade? How can we turn this into a decade of action? The answer is simple: we must listen to, support and invest in young people.

Africa must leverage the power of youth in high-risk countries, where support for the practice among people aged 15 to 19 is much lower than among those aged 45 to 49.

Increasingly, young girls are growing up with a much higher chance of remaining intact compared to their mothers and grandmothers.

This new generation can champion a global movement, transforming traditional norms and inspiring their peers to stand up to their elders by saying no to this form of gender-based violence.

In doing so, young people need to know that their governments are firmly behind them.

That is why the Government of Kenya will work with all stakeholders to end FGM by 2022, eight years ahead of the deadline to meet the target set under Sustainable Development Goal 5.

In a country where the practice is still prevalent despite being outlawed in 2011, Kenya is paving the way for other African countries to aim higher.

Kenya is setting the bar for the rest of the continent and globally with innovations like the Johari Beads Initiative, a multi-stakeholder partnership between UNFPA, the Government of Kenya and EcoBank. 

By turning traditional beadwork into a viable commercial enterprise, the project is empowering rural girls and women to take control of their future while spurring social change in their communities.

Furthermore, the government as part of the build up to the ICPD25 Summit convened neighbouring countries of Ethiopia, Uganda, Somalia and Tanzania to collectively evolve solutions to the cross border implications of FGM.

The promise of such partnerships underscores the increasingly urgent need to back up our rhetoric with concrete financial commitments.

The good news is that we now know exactly how much it will cost to achieve our goal. UNFPA estimates that a global investment of $2.4 billion (Sh240 billion) would be enough to eliminate female genital mutilation in 31 priority countries by the end of the decade. It costs on average $94 (Sh9,400) to avert a single case. 

At this week’s African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, we hope all African countries will heed our call to rid the continent of female genital mutilation once and for all.

Let’s remind ourselves of the pledges AU member States made 10 years ago with the launch of the Initiative on Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation. 

As we observe the International Zero Tolerance Day to Female Genital Mutilation today, let us give  young people the opportunities they need to forge a brighter future and to deliver on our promise to keep all African women and girls safe from the knife.

— The writers are President Uhuru Kenyatta and UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of United Nations Population Fund based in New York

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