By John Burke Baidoo-Legal Advisor-Ripples International
WHAT IS FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION
Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as Female Circumcision, is the ritual cutting or removal of some or all of the external female genitalia. The practice is found in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
TYPES OF FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION
Female genital mutilation is classified into four types:
Type I: Also known as clitoridectomy, this type consists of partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or its prepuce.
Type II: Also known as excision, the clitoris and labia minora are partially or totally removed, with or without excision of the labia majora.
Type III: The most severe form, it is also known as infibulation or pharaonic type. The procedure consists of narrowing the vaginal orifice with the creation of a covering seal by cutting and positioning the labia minora and/or labia majora, with or without removal of the clitoris. The apposition of the wound edges consists of stitching or holding the cut areas together for a certain period of time (for example, girls’ legs are bound together), to create the covering seal. A small opening is left for urine and menstrual blood to escape. Infibulation must be opened either through penetrative sexual intercourse or surgery.
Type IV: This type consists of all other procedures to the genitalia of women for non-medical purposes, such as pricking, piercing, incising, scraping, and cauterization.
How does FGM affect the health of women and girls?
FGM has serious implications for the sexual and reproductive health of girls and women. Women and Girls suffer Trauma and in most cases complications that include severe pain, shock, hemorrhage, tetanus or infection, urine retention, ulceration of the genital region, urinary infection, fever, and septicemia. Sometimes death from bleeding may result.
Long-term consequences include complications during childbirth, anemia, the formation of cysts and abscesses, keloid scar formation, damage to the urethra resulting in urinary incontinence, dyspareunia (painful sexual intercourse), sexual dysfunction, hypersensitivity of the genital area and increased risk of HIV transmission.
There is often the accumulation of menstrual flow in the vagina and uterus. Infibulation, for example, creates a physical barrier to sexual intercourse and childbirth. An infibulated woman, therefore, has to undergo gradual dilation of the vaginal opening before sexual intercourse can take place. Often, infibulated women have to be cut open by their partners to enable intimacy. At childbirth, many women also have to be cut again because the vaginal opening is too small to allow for the passage of a baby. Infibulation is also linked to menstrual and urination disorders, recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections, fistulae, and infertility.
FGM also leaves a lot of Psychological Trauma on the victims.
Why do some Communities in Kenya still engage in FGM despite all these disadvantages?
- The practice is deeply rooted in cultural beliefs as opposed to Religion. Most of the communities in Kenya that Practice FGM are either Christian or Muslim. One cannot find a single scripture in either the Bible or Koran that underscores the practice.
- The practice may be perpetrated for reasons ranging from Prestige, Pride, Family honor, Marriageability, and inclusion within communal circles. Women who do not undertake to have the cut are usually ostracized and branded as ‘unclean” by their communities and this remains the singular reason why survivors willingly practice FGM.
- As Rites of Passage, this practice ushers girls into womanhood.
- It is also known to bring wealth to those who engage in the trade. Circumcisers gain income through practice.
- Psychosexual reasons: FGM is carried out as a way to control women’s sexuality, which is sometimes said to be insatiable if parts of the genitalia, especially the clitoris, are not removed. It is thought to ensure virginity before marriage and fidelity afterward, and to increase male sexual pleasure.
What are the current challenges in addressing FGM in Kenya?
- Poor enforcement of the laws
- Inadequate and inaccurate data
- Poor Coordination between Legal, Health, Culture, Policy and Educational sectors of the Economy
- Stigma and community resistance in implementing Anti-FGM laws
What is the National Statistics in Kenya?
Statistics provided by the National Policy for the Eradication of Female Genital Mutilation show that 9.3 million Women and Girls have undergone Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Kenya. The prevalence rate among the Somali Community is a whopping 94%, Samburu 86%, Kisii 84%, and 78% among the Maasai. According to the Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS) of 2014, the national Prevalence has gradually declined from 32% in 2003,27% in 2008-2009 and 21% in 2014. The report also showed a marginal increase in the prevalence from10% to 10.2% in women and girls aged between 15 -45 years in the Coast while in North Eastern it has remained an all high of 97.5%.
Are there Laws and Policies in Kenya that Ban this Practice?
Kenya is a signatory to a host of International and Regional Treaties, Conventions and Protocols all geared towards the eradication of Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG). These include The Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR, 1948), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW, 1979), The Convention against torture and other cruel and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984), and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child (1989).
At the Regional Level, Kenya is a signatory to the Protocol of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol, 2003), Aspiration 6 of Africa’s Agenda 2063 which calls for full empowerment of women and girls including eliminating Gender-Based Violence. Article 21 of the African Charter on the Rights of the Welfare of the Child mandates Governments to make every effort to stop harmful social and cultural practices that affect the welfare and Dignity of Girls.
The 2010 constitution of Kenya provides several protections geared towards the protection of women and girls from FGM and other harmful practices. Article 44 (3) of the Constitution prohibits any person from compelling another person to perform, observe, undergo any cultural practice or rite that is inimical to the person.
Article 53(1) (d) of the Constitution of Kenya provides that every girl has the right to be protected from abuse, neglect, and harmful cultural practices, all forms of violence, inhuman treatment and punishment, and hazardous exploitative labor”.
Article 55 (d) emphasizes state parties to take measures, including Affirmative Action Programmes to ensure that the Youth are protected from harmful cultural practices.
To operationalize article 53(1) (d) of the constitution, The National Assembly enacted several laws including the Protection against Domestic Violence Act of 2015 which criminalizes FGM, Sexual Violence Act (SVA), and the Prohibition of FGM Act 2011. Further to all this legislation is the Penal Code, CAP 63 that criminalizes acts such as FGM. It is well known that these Acts prohibit GBV and safeguard against the violation of a person’s mental and or physical integrity. The laws are mandated to uphold the dignity and empowerment of women and girls through the coordination of initiatives such as awareness creation and advocacy.
Section 14 of the Children’s Act 2001 on the protection of young people from harmful cultural practices states “ No person shall subject a Child to Female Genital Mutilation, early marriage or other cultural rights, customs or traditional practices that are likely to negatively affect the Child’s Life, Health, Social Welfare, Dignity or Physical or psychological Development.
Other Policies that Protect and Promote Respect for the rights of Women and Children are the Vision 2030 and the 3rd Medium Term Plan (MTP III) for the period 2018-2022 which also addresses FGM under the Gender, Youth and Vulnerable Groups sector of the Social Pillar. The MTP III targets to enhance prevention and response to GBV and improve the utilization of essential services. The MTP III further discusses the protection and promotion of the rights of women and girls by ensuring the prosecution of offenders and the provision of support services to the survivors of GBV. The MTP III proposes heavy reliance on community outreach and sensitization programs to advocate against Female Genital Mutilation.
The National Policy for Prevention and Response to Gender-Based Violence, 2014 has also been approved to accelerate efforts towards the elimination of all forms of GBV in Kenya. The policy envisages a coordinated approach in GBV programming, prevention, and response as well as improved sustainability of outcomes to these markers.
Despite all these Protections, Kenya still has a very high prevalence in issues relating to FGM.FGM continues to persist since it is deeply rooted in the cultural matrix of the people. It impedes the achievement of the social pillar in Kenya’s Vision 2030 goal for Socio-Economic change. It also impedes the sustainable Development Goal and specifically targets 5.3 which aims to eliminate all forms of violence against women and Girls such as Child Marriage and FGM and realize the vision of achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment.
The complementary efforts of Government and CSO’s give due regard to the impact on gender inequality in compliance with the Strategic Development Goals 5 which is the driver towards achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.
How do we deal with FGM in Kenya?
- There is the Political goodwill to have FGM eradicated by 2023. This is a Presidential Fiat and has been widely supported by NGO’s and civil society pursuing the eradication agenda.
- Media engagement has been relentless in weeding out the practice.
- Adequate laws are available in sectioning perpetrators and willing victims as well.
- Community-led approaches have led to sustainable interventions at the community, County, and National levels.
What are the emerging trends in FGM issues?
- FGM is being practiced on younger girls to conceal it.46% of women aged between 15-19 were cut at ages 5-9 compared to 17% of women aged between 45-49 according to the Kenya Health and Demographic Survey Report(2014).
- Change in the type of cut: The perceived reduction of health risks of the practice accounts for the sudden switch of one type of cut to another. Infibulation has been replaced by clitoridectomy.
- There has been a general increase in demand for the services of the traditional Circumciser. The Proportion of Women aged between 15-49 circumcised by the traditional circumciser increased from 75% in 2008-2009 to 80.5% in 2014 according to the KHDS (2014).
- There is a lot of secrecy around FGM lately. The Pomp and Pageantry that accompanied celebrations are no longer in place partially due to its criminalization. It has become a secret affair between practicing families/Communities. Girls undergo FGM individually as opposed to groups.
- Cross Border Cutting. Communities that Practice FGM usually cross the border to neighboring countries that have not criminalized FGM to carry out the deed. Kenyans from FGM practicing communities living abroad also obtain the cut when they visit their rural communities back home.
What does the term “medicalization of FGM” mean?
According to WHO, the medicalization of FGM is when FGM is performed by a health-care provider, such as a community health worker, midwife, nurse, or doctor. Medicalized FGM can take place in a public or private clinic, at home or elsewhere. It also includes the procedure of infibulation at any point in time in a woman’s life. In 2010, a joint interagency Global Strategy to Stop Health-Care Providers from Performing FGM was released. In 2016, the WHO also released guidelines on the management of health complications from FGM. This strategy reflects a consensus between international experts, United Nations entities, and the Member States they represent. In addition, the global commitment to eliminate all forms of FGM by 2030 is clearly stated in target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
What are some of the Priority actions to be undertaken in FGM?
- Promote Public Education and Community Dialogues on FGM
- Support the enforcement of the existing laws related to FGM
- Engage Women, Girls, Boys, and Men in the Prevention of FGM
- Develop initiatives to address cross-border FGM.
- Promote the Empowerment of Women and Girls.
- Develop and implement a monitoring and Evaluation Framework
Who to contact in case of FGM
- Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR)
- Kenya Police
- NGO’s and CBO’s such as Ripples International/FIDA/ CREAW.
What are the leading women within the community saying about FGM?
“There is the need to promote the establishment of temporary rescue shelters for women and girls at risk of FGM, There is the urgent need for civil society to develop mechanisms to reach those target communities practicing FGM with information on prevention and response to FGM”-Mercy Chidi-Baidoo. (Ripples International)
“We need to support the establishment of a system for anonymous reporting of FGM cases as feed for the security agencies. The law ought to bite in this circumstance”–Doreen Kaigongi-Youth Leader SIFA.
“We need to enhance documentation and Knowledge transfer between policymakers, researchers, communities, and other FGM data consumers- Victorious Ogbonna (Strathmore, Law student).