The 2010 Constitution of Kenya, Article 53(1) categorically states that: Every child has the right ....(d) to be protected from abuse, neglect, harmful cultural practices, all forms of violence, inhuman treatment and punishment.
The Children’s Act, passed in 2001, came into force in 2002. The Act made FGM illegal for girls under eighteen and imposed twelve months imprisonment and/or a fine of up to Kes 50,000 for breach of the law. Later in October 2011 another law the ‘Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act 2011’ came into force.
This Act not only criminalized FGM for underage girls but for everyone and, in a bid to tackle social pressure, also banned the stigmatization of women who had not undergone FGM. The 2011 Act extended the powers of previous legislation, providing for the prosecution of those who perform FGM and anyone who aids such a person or who knowingly fails to report knowledge of such acts or pending acts in Kenya or abroad. The 2011 Act made the punishment more severe than the 2001 Act, making it three to seven years imprisonment or life imprisonment for causing death by performing FGM and a fine of Kes 200,000. In addition to the various national laws, Kenya is signatory to several international human rights conventions denouncing FGM.
Following these very clearly stated Constitutional and legal requirements, very many initiatives have been and are being undertaken, to actively engage in trying to eradicate/discourage the practice of violating the basic human right of women and girls to control their own bodies.
However, in spite of all these efforts, it is a known fact that thousands of young girls continue to be subjected to this injurious ritual both in the rural areas as well as clandestinely in specifically located urban centres. Eastleigh is one such area in Nairobi County.
It was against this background that SAMOSA Festival 8 organised a women’s only Forum in Eastleigh to provide an opportunity for an interchange of ideas between the community women and some of the activists in this field.
Three panelists led the discussion: Angelina Cikanda of CREAW, Lul Isaack Ali of Eastleigh and Naitore Nyamu – Mathenge of Equality Now. Irene Soila of the KHRC moderated the event. Here below are just some of the concerns which were voiced:
FGM is a global phenomenon and is defended as a cultural and traditional, occasionally religious, rite with the underlying common belief that it suppresses a woman’s sexual urges. Yet science has proved beyond doubt that the sexual urge is a process of the mind and is not physical; therefore using this as the reason is both incorrect and misplaced. And morals and values can surely not be inculcated by inflicting pain.
The effects of FGM are devastating and leave the girls with many sexual and reproductive health complications including severe pain, shock, hemorrhage (bleeding), tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue. Long-term consequences can include recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections; cysts; infertility; an increased risk of childbirth complications. To this Mama Lul added the pain and difficulty the victim experiences in passing urine and during her menstrual periods; not to mention the immeasurable loss of self- esteem which is embedded in a woman’s psyche for the rest of her life.
The main defenders of FGM are the elderly men who control these communities and are firm believers in the efficacy of this ancient cultural practice. Younger men are dissuaded from marrying ‘uncircumcised’ girls and the fear of such ostracism drives the girls and their mothers to succumb to FGM however unwillingly. For the circumcisers themselves, anti-FGM advocacy portends a loss of income.
The challenges therefore are many and are deep-rooted. FGM, Mama Lul said, is still being tackled largely by international and national organisations which fulfill their mandates and then leave. There is a need for locally based programs which would be on-going and with which the community could interact and get support from.
Women do not have the facility to get together to discuss their concerns, especially away from a controlling male presence; schoolgirls forming discussion clubs was one proposal, sharing information about anti-FGM programs being conducted in other parts of the country was another. Unfortunately in Kenya all communities are not treated equally and there are those, which in spite of the available data, are left to deal with their own issues; and for outsiders to reach them then becomes problematic.
Nevertheless a lot is being done. The government has allocated funding to every county and it is for the communities to access it and utilize it. Imams and sheikhs travel and spread the anti-FGM mantra; ambassadors and peace agents from Wajir do the same and very brave and enterprising women not only give talks but also organize refusals/alternatives to FGM.
The media is not much engaged on this topic but Equality Now uses the media as a platform to sensitize and shape conversations around human rights violations. Through the media, their officers train journalists on how to sensitively report cases of FGM as a human right violation The Samburu community has received considerable media interest and support. That is largely because their members have spoken out and demanded that FGM be stopped. Somali women on the other hand have not yet gone public and narrated their personal experiences and the trauma they have undergone, they need to raise this awareness.
It was good to hear that according to statistics, there has been a decline in FGM rates in Kenya. However, ‘a lot more needs to be done’, stressed Angelina. We need to familiarize communities on the existing laws to the extent of realization that those culpable are not just the circumcisers but also those that fail to report when an illegality is committed, bystanders who simply watch and do nothing, those found carrying regalia used in the act and those who procure. It’s important that community conversations prioritize discussions around FGM and its negative effects.
Irene Soila closed the Forum and proposed that many more such gatherings would go a long way in eradicating the deeply embedded practice of FGM.