Around the world, girls and women are forced to live with the consequences of female genital mutilation (FGM) and early marriage. Although Kenya has made strides in outlawing FGM, child marriage and protecting children’s rights, the practise is still rampant. Often motivated by cultural beliefs, FGM leads to early marriage and health complications and is forced upon girls aged seven to 12.
In Kenya, FGM is a criminal offence under the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act 2011 - a step in the right direction towards completely ending the harmful practise. However, girls and women are too often under strong social pressure and risk victimisation and stigma if they refuse to be cut.
I listened to amazing stories from girls who had refused the cut and risked alienation from their family and community and those who were cut at an early age without knowing what was happening to them. Women opened up at the Girl Summit Kenya, which was hosted by the British High Commissioner to Nairobi Dr Christian Turner in conjunction with UNICEF and UNFPA.
The summit in Nairobi, which focused on FGM and child marriage, galvanised support in preparation for the UK summit*. It emerged that Kenya has one of the highest child marriage prevalence in the world, estimated to be 25 to 30%.
If we do not act now, 824,000 girls born between 2005 and 2010 will be married before the age of 18 by 2030.
The Girl Summit is helping to drive momentum towards this unique opportunity that we have to end these harmful practises within a generation.
Your dowry is my inheritance
Sadly, we live in a society where as a woman you must prove your worth unlike men who are valued by birth. Most girls drop out of school at a very early age because their parents cannot educate them, reason – they are girls and the only value attached to them is in goats and cows – as bride price.
This is the case in Marimanti, a village in central Kenya where girls are treated as a source of income and fetch 48 goats when they are married. With such retrogressive cultures, most girls can only dream of a life as homemakers without knowing what could have become of them or the great opportunities in life. What then happens to future generations?
Some of the traditions girls and women have to go through to earn respect in some of the communities across the globe are dehumanising. So much has been said and continues to be said on FGM and its detrimental effects.
This practise is condemned by many yet still remains deep rooted in some communities. So entrenched is the culture that any reference to ‘backwardness’ is music to the ears of those practising it. Closely linked to the practise is child marriage.
The sad truth is that girls who undergo the cut more often than not abandon school and are made to believe that they are mature enough to manage men in marriage. Worse still, a girl who is cut is valued more and the bride price is higher.
Religion as a catalyst
I recently visited some ‘agents of change’, and had the pleasure of meeting Rev Mathinja Nduyo from one of the largest churches in Marimanti. The Reverend takes a religious angle to tackling the issue of FGM and brings the community together to dispel the myths surrounding the practise.
Value is placed on marriage and girls who are not married are often despised by the villagers, including women. This affects the girls psychologically, making them opt for the cut just to ‘fit in’. Religious leaders have come together to condemn the practise and relentlessly include its detriments in sermons and pre-marital counselling sessions.
Education is power
Many Kenyan girls are being denied the freedom to control their future – by not getting an education. It is well known that education is slowly changing attitudes and influencing the choice to have the cut.
However, many girls from underserved communities have challenges in completing their education therefore miss out on the opportunities open to others in respect to acquisition of knowledge and skills.
Plan Kenya not only works with communities to see the end of such harmful practices, but has also worked tirelessly to build the knowledge reservoirs to individuals, groups and community members.
Plan Kenya fulfils its mandate by engaging different sectors of the community in advocating for structures and mechanisms that address people’s rights. Part of our work is to engage the community and empower it to make the right choices – those that give the best chance for girls and boys to reach their full potential.
At the end of the Girl Summit Kenya we were asked to pledge what we could do to end FGM and early marriage.
Plan Kenya pledges to link up with many strong groups and do more than we currently do to enable communities to have the knowledge to abandon this practise and pursue alternative rites of passage within one generation.
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