Prof. Gidraph Wairire, Sociology and Social Work, University of Nairobi
Dr Pacifica Okemwa, Gender and Development Studies, Kenyatta University
Marygorety Akinyi, African Women's Studies Centre, University of Nairobi
Female Genital Mutilation
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), also known as female circumcision, excision or genital cutting, comprises and refers to all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the female genitalia or other injury to the genital organs for non-medical reasons. The reasons may be cultural, albeit imposed by traditions or other justifications.
Female Genital Mutilation is mostly carried out between infancy and age 15 years. The procedure has no medical or health benefits for girls and women. In many instances, the procedure is performed without permission of the girl or woman. Thus, it is a violation of human rights as well as a girls’ right to make important decisions about her sexual health.
|Key Facts Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women. Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems during urination, scarring and later cysts, infections, as well as complications during childbirth, and increased risk of new-born deaths. More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been ‘cut’ in 30 Africa countries, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is concentrated. FGM is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15. FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls and women. Source: World Health Organization|
According to Plan International, at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone a form of female genital mutilation. It is estimated that if current trends continue, 15 million additional girls between ages 15 and 19 years will be subjected to it by 2030.
|At least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone a form of female genital mutilation (FGM). If current trends continue, 15 million additional girls between ages 15 and 19 years will be subjected to it by 2030.|
Cultural beliefs and practice are a strong factor why this harmful practice takes place. These include the idea that it preserves chastity, cleanliness and family honour, and preserves a girl for marriage. Yet these are outdated beliefs that no longer serve any purpose to the girl, family or society.
There are various forms of FGM.
Prevalence of FGM in Africa
|Procedures in FGM Female genital mutilation is classified into four major types. Type 1: Often referred to as clitoridectomy, this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals). In very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris). Type 2: Often referred to as excision, this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora (the inner folds of the vulva), with or without excision of the labia majora (the outer folds of skin of the vulva). Type 3: Often referred to as infibulation, this is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora, or labia majora, sometimes through stitching, with or without removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy). Type 4: This includes all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, such as pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area. Source: World Health Organization|
It is deplorable that such a cultural practice without meaningful purpose could have been so deeply entrenched as to be a part of so many peoples’ lives. In the first instance, any medical operation on a human being must be performed for their good health. On the contrary, FGM is actually injuries through inflicting unnecessary pain to the victims. Secondly, FGM is performed on girls at a tender age (12 – 15 years). Therefore, a girl child at such a tender age suffers psychological torture that erodes their self-pride and self-esteem. Many of the girls appear scared and timid as a result. They do not understand the meaning of such acts of torture administered by adults without their full consent and allowed by the ‘so called’ caring and loving parents.
It requires sensitive handling to persuade communities that FGM is not a necessary part of a girl’s life and coming-of-age ritual. Appropriate information must get across to the girls and women, boys and men, as well as religious, political and community leaders.
|Female Genital Mutilation is one of the worst forms of gender violence. It is physically and psychologically harmful, as well as abusive, and leaves the victim—girl or woman—tormented and highly traumatized. It leaves scars on the wound and in the heart.|
Most of the women who conduct FGM have no training in medicine or surgical procedures. They seldom use any aesthetic or standard surgical weapons. Instead, they use traditional tools and instruments as well as tranquilisers.
Tools and Instruments used in FGM
Societies must abandon Female Genital Mutilation
FGM has both short- and long-term effects. These include immediate pain, as well as psychological, social and health implications. FGM affects the health of the individual. There is chronic pain, infections and increased risk of HIV transmission. There is also the pain during sex as well as birth complications, infertility and at worst death as a result of excessive bleeding.
Psychologically, the girl (child) or woman is tortured, anxious and depressed. Girls and women who are not ‘cut’ or circumcised are often ostracized. They are socially segregated as ‘outcasts’ and words with negative connotations meaning ‘uncut’ or ‘uncircumcised’ used against them. The words imply that the girl is ‘unfit’ and ‘cannot’ be married. This labelling leaves the victim with obvious anxiety and depression. In all instances, no worthwhile male could marry a girl who had not been ‘cut’, thus in effect leaving the girls despised and spiteful. Yet even the girls who are ‘cut’ also experience the torment of being held or forced to the ground as they undergo the operation. For the girls and women, cut or uncut is not an option to the torment of pain and torture of being cut, or the ensuing embarrassment of skipping the ordeal.
Socially, FGM enhances social acceptance as the girl is considered a woman and thus ‘one-of-us’, while girls and women who skip are ‘looked-down upon’. Additionally, it is a precursor to child marriage. This brings to an end her schooling and education. The child is thus forced into adulthood and marriage life.
Of Kenya’s 42 ethnic groups, only three (Luo, Luhya and Teso) do not practice FGM. But according to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) 2014, the national prevalence of FGM was declining (include statistics). However, prevalence of FGM is higher in certain more traditional communities than others (provide statistics).
|It is most unfortunate for a parent to sit a girl and persuade her to undergo FGM. It is worst when a girl is suddenly ambushed and pushed to the ground and without warning utterly mutilated. This is not a cultural practice but constitutes abuse, torture and physical harm. It is a violation of human rights and an offence.|
Kenya as a developing country has made huge progress in abandoning FGM. This has primarily been through policy formulation, legislation and high-level advocacy. There are critical platforms for effective change through an enhanced understanding of the practice. In this way, societies comprehend more of the physiological, psychological and social effects of the practice. The government through various Ministries and Departments — including Culture, Education, Gender, Health, Justice and Legal Services— has been prominent in advocacy programmes aimed to end FGM. Kenya outlawed FGM in 2001. In 2011, a second set of laws was passed that made it illegal to promote or facilitate female genital mutilation.
|Kenya has enacted several laws aimed at preventing violence against women. These include: The Constitution of Kenya 2010, The Prevention of FGM Act 2011, The Sexual Offences Act 2006, and the National Policy on Prevention and Response to Gender-based Violence 2014.|
Societal interventions to end FGM
Various organizations work with government authorities, community leaders, parents, teachers, children and young people to put an end to harmful traditional practices such as FGM through raising awareness and thus transforming behaviour. This includes empowering girls and women to exercise their right and make effective decisions about their own sexual health and well-being.
Information about the medical and psychological harm caused by FGM should help inform dialogues. Thousands of community leaders and girls are trained on the consequences of female genital mutilation. FGM must be part of discussions on human rights. This awareness can also be raised through the media including newspapers, magazines and radio. In the end, many people will abandon the practice. Thus, FGM must be a standalone issue as well as be embraced in other issues so that this does not create suspicion or resistance.
|Parental responsibility All parents should be caring and cherish their children deeply. It is therefore important to understand the implications of any procedure, rites or beliefs imparted or medical, cultural, social or religious administered to the child. This includes such rites such as circumcision, birth and baptismal rites, marriage and others. At no time should you hesitate to seek the meaning and purpose of a ceremony, occasion or operation involving you or your child. This is because essentially, we must be able to log in meaning that rhymes with our life philosophy. Life philosophy consists of our religious, social and cultural aspects.|
A key element in the fight against FGM is to give girls and women and young people a voice. This calls for involving particularly girls and empowering them with rights to a safer, more fulfilling life. FGM has broader implications on health, human rights, education and quality of life.
High level advocacy by prominent personalities has significantly contributed to the fight against harmful cultural practices such as FGM. These personalities include President Uhuru Kenyatta, Barrack Obama and Pope Francis
|His Excellency the President of the Republic of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta and the First Lady’s Beyond Zero Campaign have significantly contributed towards the fight against harmful cultural practices such as FGM.|
|President Obama on his visit to Kenya||President Obama acknowledged the distinctiveness and diversity of culture and that they are unique and help make us what we are. However, Obama condemned the tradition of oppressing women and treating them differently and failing to give them the same opportunities. He insisted that those are bad traditions and need to change.|
|Pope Francis visited Kenya in 2015 2015||The Pope urged Kenyans and society to resist practices that hurt or demean women and others that threaten life|
Several leaders have exhorted communities to abandon cultures that promote inequality and injustice, oppress girls and women and undermine human rights. Instead, we must adopt cultures that promote fairness, justice and the rights of all people.
A social phenomenon of a gendered society that must end
FGM is a manifestation of deeply-entrenched human inequalities particularly in terms of gender. Besides the physiological, psychological and painful experiences of FGM, the initiation of girls and boys through circumcision is a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. This in turn implies that the girl can be married off, with or without her consent. Additionally, if the girl is in school, she is likely to drop out and get married. This phenomenon prevents the girl from climbing the social ladder that would have enabled her to achieve her life dreams like her male counterparts. Thus, FGM enhances the social inequalities and is a form of social and human injustice.
Parental involvement is essential. A parent or guardian is responsible for the overall development of the child including moral and spiritual development. Parents and guardians have a duty and responsibility to ensure that any rite of passage that a child undergoes is healthy, meaningful and beneficial to the child’s overall wellbeing. Any rite or practice must also be in tandem with the person’s religious, social and cultural convictions.
FGM is a cultural practice that must be brought to a halt.