Wednesday, 2 November 2016

The spirited fight must go on in fighting FGM


Pokot Women in Kenya in a past ceremony

This year, the African Union joined the global community to observe the “International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital”.

The day was adopted on 20 December 2012 by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) to enhance campaigns to raise awareness and educate people about the dangers of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as well as to take concrete actions against Female Genital Mutilation.”

The AU has adopted legally binding instruments that promote the prohibition of traditional practices that are prejudicial to the health and welfare of young girls and women. Among others, Article 21 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child obliges States Parties to eliminate harmful social and cultural practices, such as FGM, that affect the welfare, dignity, normal growth and development of the child.

In addition, Article 5 of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ ‘Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) requires States Parties to prohibit and condemn all forms of harmful practices, such as FGM, which negatively affect the human rights of women and to take all necessary legislative and other measures to eliminate such practices.


However, all these developments reminds me when the world marked the eighth anniversary of an Africa-led campaign against female genital mutilation (traditional practice which involves the partial or total removal of female genitalia, undergone by more than 100 million girls and women worldwide), the fight against FGM is yet to ripen in areas that still practice the culture.

This was a day that rekindled the story on two young sisters who had taken refuge in a forest for three days with neither food nor water in Marakwet West District to escape forced circumcision as well as early planned marriages.

The two school girls aged 14 and 16 had fled their home after they learned that they were to be circumcised the following day. Arrangements had already been made for the material day with friends and relatives having been invited to witness their ‘graduation from childhood into womanhood’’

Their mother had reportedly prepared them for the rite and to curse them if they dared to let her down. When she learned of their plans to escape, she called up on other women to help her lock the innocent girls in a house to prevent them but, the girls managed to escape through the window.

They were found by a vegetable vendor in the middle of Kamotony forest in Marakwet West District shivering and conversing in low tones.

In a twist of events, most painful, the two girls had informed the Provincial Administration who did not take any action.

Two months had passed after over thirty school girls were rescued from undergoing FGM as well as planned marriages in Pokot County.

Despite the fact that the government has been taking stern measures in an effort to eradicate the practice, more than three hundred and fifty girls had already been circumcised in Marakwet as many  lined up to face the knife in Tot and Tunyo divisions of Marakwet East.

In spite of the 2001 Children's Act in Kenya outlawing FGM, it was performed in medical facilities across these districts. As a result only a handful of cases have reached the courts in recent years.

Subsequently, the 2010 UNDP report on Human Development Index (HDI) ranked Kenya number 87 and disclosed that, gender equity reflects women's disadvantage in three dimensions reproductive health, empowerment and the labour market indicating women are poorer because the report went beyond income earnings focusing on the ends rather than the means of development and progress.

2016, Kenya has been ranked 18 in Africa and 145 in the 2016 report of HDI. “A key message of this report is that giving more concerted attention to gender equality will be an important and long overdue stimulus to faster and more inclusive human development and economic growth for the entire continent,” according to Helen Clark, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme.


Girls who refuse to cooperate with their parents are usually disowned and chased out of their homes. Some fathers have refused to pay school fees for their daughters who have refused to undergo circumcision.

Zero tolerance for FGM can become a reality only if all appropriate sectors of government and civil society prioritise the protection of women and girls from FGM and coordinate their efforts in a proactive, sustained and planned manner.

Much has been done but more efforts have to be done, not by the government but the communities at large. Communities that still value such practices need to look for alternative rites of passage and do away with grueling ordeals that leave the girls with permanent health problems that they live with throughout their lifetime.

On the other hand, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says in a new report that community-focused initiatives are proving effective in reducing the incidence of female genital cutting in Kenya

Efforts that address cultural and social dimensions of the practice have yielded better results than have blanket condemnations or appeals aimed at individuals, UNICEF finds.

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Law enforcement must employ creative strategies such as undercover investigations of medical facilities which provide FGM and temporarily increase the concentration of police forces in high-risk areas.

Further, the government must allocate additional resources to increase transportation for law enforcement, raise awareness among girls, make ample shelter arrangements for girls fleeing FGM, use community radio and local media to warn practising communities that FGM will not be tolerated, publicise arrests and prosecutions and equip courts to handle cases efficiently.

This is an abridged version of the original story written in 2011-02-06.

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