FGM in Kenya: criticism and hope

8 Jun

Female Genital Mutilation has been illegal in Kenya since the ratification of the Children’s Act in 2001. Anyone violating this act by subjecting a girl child to FGM can be sent to prison. Yet, there are ethnic groups in Kenya in which the prevalence of FGM remains as high as 96 percent, most notably the Kisii ethnic minority.

Nation-wide, the percentage of girls affected by FGM has been dropping since the adoption of the Children’s Act, from almost 40 percent in 1990 to 32 percent in 2003 and 27 percent in 2009. Pamela Mbuvi, children’s officer for the Kisii District says the law drives those who are determined to continue the practice to do so more secretly. The official figures can therefore not always be trusted, she says: “So when you see surveys pointing to a decline, it might mean people are abandoning the custom, but it could also mean they now do it secretly and report it less lest the law catches up with them.We have caught a few people doing it and at least five have been jailed that I know of, but the secrecy that the perpetrators use makes it hard to effectively use the law to end the practice.”

The Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Bill (2010) is a new law that seeks to remove some of the loopholes in current legislation, for example by remove the requirement for the police to obtain a warrant to enter premises where they suspect FGM/C is being carried out.

Legislation alone is not enough to end FGM in Kenya

Lina Jebii Kilim, a Kenyan Parliamentarian and activist against FGM points out that while laws are important, they are not enough to stop FGM in Kenya. In this light, an example from the Pokot region in Kenya shows that there may be a change in perception of the practice among the younger generation. As we reported earlier, young girls in this remote area in which FGM is widespread are starting to rebel not only against FGM but also against the role of women in society attached to the practice.

“My parents are putting pressure on me to get cut, but I am refusing”, says Nancy, one of the Pokot girls who are questioning the roles their communities see fit for them. These girls are fighting for their right to receive an education and want to break the circle of passing on the pressure to be mutilated from mother to daughter.
But the only chance for these girls to be successful in the long-term is a change in perception of their value, rights and roles within society. “Those who are not circumcised, they are not married. The men also fear that ‘I marry uncircumcised woman, I’ll be laughed at in the community. People will not value me.’ Unless we remove the stigma, there’s no way it will stop,” Rhoda, a midwife from Pokot explains. She is trying to establish an alternative rite of passage in the region, but points out the importance of a change in perception in the entire community.

“I am often asked whether men should be included in the process of eradicating FGM more. Of course they should! This example shows how important it is to change the perception that men have of women”, Waris Dirie says. “Until men start to see women as human beings equal to them, this practice will be very very hard to stop. I am calling on all men to re-think what they want in their wives. Don’t you want a healthy and happy woman to be your wife?”

Source: Al Jazeera

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