It is believed that an estimated 1,000 girls in Kenya undergo FGM each day when schools are on recess with December recording the highest numbers. In December 2015, the case of a 13-year old primary school girl who underwent forced FGM in Elgeyo Marakwet and died after bleeding profusely hit the mainstream media and trended on twitter for about 48 hours. In the same area, two other girls were admitted at the local hospital after their parents abandoned them at the hospital gate fearing arrest.
For 48 hours, Kenyans went to social media in support of the hashtag #ElgeyoMarakwetsaysnotoFGM. Almost two months later, this is just a distant memory in the minds of most Kenyans. For the girl who lost her life, her memory will for a long time live with her close friends and relatives, with the parents who had no idea that their decision to take their daughter through the ritual would rob them of a young life. Yet, this practice continues to be tolerated in various communities.
The truth about FGM is: it impedes a girl’s education, it violates the rights of girls who are often forced into it and, it takes lives. This notwithstanding the health implications such as obstructed labour when they reach child-bearing age which could cause fistula.
Different development partners have come up with programmes to counter the culture that is obviously deeply entrenched and also an injustice against women and girls. So entrenched is the belief that a woman is incomplete without the cut, that most women actually seek the procedure. This begs for answers to the questions: What strategies work in the fight against FGM? Who is accountable in ensuring that this practice is no longer tolerated?
Although the practice is outlawed in Kenya, the more the law enforcers act, the more tactical communities become to escape justice. Parents, who are the primary caregivers are in some cases responsible for seeking this ‘service’ for their children.
Cases of children being taken across borders especially among the Kuria, reducing the age of the girls cut to as low as six months among the Maasai, and practicing at night among the Tharakas are not unheard of. These communities are also medicalising the ritual making it even more difficult to detect.
The transformation of this deep-seated practice and underlying mind-set calls for a broader strategy. The practice of FGM signifies a long-term disempowerment and it is symptomatic of entrenched discriminatory social norms. It is here that organisations like Plan International need to work together with parents and communities to come up with non-harmful ceremonies to mark the passing of a girl into adulthood.
Working with communities in Tharaka Nithi whose FGM/C prevalence is estimated at 58 per cent, Plan International is cognisant to the fact that children are becoming increasingly aware of their rights and therefore can refuse to go through the ritual when older. However, most of the children are not given a chance to become old enough to choose.
In the recently released Kenya Demographic Health Survey 2014, FGM prevalence is on the decline (from 32 per cent in 2008-9 to 21 per cent in 2014) -although varies significantly by background characteristics.
It is also evident from the report that 58.2 per cent of women and girls circumcised are non-educated. This is followed by those who did not complete primary school; at 25.4 per cent indicating that the practice reduces as education increases. It is therefore apparent that the more a girl stays in school, the more unlikely she is to undergo FGM.
Plan International envisions a world that values girls, promotes their rights and ends injustice. It is against this background that the global movement ‘Because I am a Girl’ seeks to transform power relations so that girls everywhere learn, lead, decide and thrive. We uphold the importance of education among girls and fight against practices that will hinder a girl from realising their full potential.
In the light of existing blatant cases of children dropping out of school, marrying early or ultimately, in the worst case scenario, losing their lives as a result of FGM, the commemoration of this the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM is very significant. It will however take more than a day set aside to end FGM. It will take collective responsibility from all corners of the country and all duty-bearers to show conviction in ending the ritual.
It is therefore time for all actors to come together and renew efforts in the fight against FGM, without which, keeping the promise of ending violence against girls as enshrined in the Constitution of Kenya will be a far cry.