Today, the 6 February 2017 marks the annual International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) worldwide. For this occasion, Kenya YMCA, Africa Alliance of YMCA and Kenya YWCA came together to discuss and stand up against FGM. The panel discussion, themed “What can I do to end Female Genital Mutilation”, under the Twitter handle “#iStandAgainstFGM” took place at YMCA South C, on Saturday the 4 February 2017. The event brought together an expert panel; women from various areas related to women´s sexual health and rights. Around 60 young people from different areas attended the event to learn, share their views, and discuss possible solutions to end the practice of FGM.
Clement Phiri (MC) from YMCA Shauri Moyo, kicked off the discussion by inviting the expert panel to explain what FGM is. Muna Imra, who works as a nurse, explained the three different types of FGM. The types of “cutting” is dependent on both culture and tradition.FGM is widespread in and among others Kisii, Meru, Pokot and deeply rooted in Somali culture. Consequences of FGM include severe bleeding, painful urination and menstruation, pain during intercourse (decreased or none satisfaction) and increased risk of childbirth complications that can result in death. In addition to medical complications, children and young women experience psychological issues like depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and post-traumatic stress disorder.
FGM in many communities is seen as a rite of passage due to its deep traditional roots. It is also believed that a girl cannot be married until she has undergone FGM and that upholding this practice prevents a young girl from a life of promiscuity. Other myths surround the practice of FGM state that it is a means to safeguard the morality of women, preserve their virginity and save them from temptation and disgrace. Nefisa Issack, a Somali advocate against FGM, shared her personal experiences of undergoing FGM.
“When I was 8 years old, in December, I was told that we were going for holidays as we usually did. After a week, my mother told us that my cousin and I were getting circumcised. She explained the importance of the practice and that it would not hurt. On the actual day, I was laid down on the floor. I suddenly felt a sharp pain cutting through me, and the numbness from the injection (to prevent the pain) could not cover the pain. After some minutes it was over. When nighttime came, my mother came with ropes to tie me and she asked me to promise not to move in my sleep so that I didn’t hurt myself. The first week I dealt with sleepless nights and painful moments. They said I would get well after 14 days”.
Activist Nefisa Issack
The fight against the practice of FGM is no new issue in Kenya. Lyla Latif, who works as a lawyer and an activist against FGM, explained that FGM has been illegal and subject to prosecution in Kenya since 2011. She further explained that practicing FGM is a breach of a number of Human Rights. “Anyone who performs cutting, has cutting tools in their home, brings their daughters to undergo FGM or is in any way assisting families to bring their daughters to undergo FGM, are subjects to prosecution in Kenya”. The panelists further explained that many fathers, mothers and families are subject to bullying from their communities, if they choose not to circumcise their daughters. This too, is against the law and subject to prosecution.
How is FGM still performed in Kenya then, despite heavy legislation forbidding the practice? Latif explained that since the anti-FGM law was put in place in 2011, no one has been prosecuted or sentenced, whilst the practice is still going on in Kenya. The reasons behind this are many, she explained: “people in the communities do not know the laws, and the police cannot be trusted to be helpful, should a young girl walk into a police station wishing to report an incident of FGM”. Other reasons are stigmatization towards families who do not wish to circumcise their daughters, and community leaders, who are not on board in the anti-FGM conversation. Most importantly, FGM is still deeply rooted as a cultural passage, and is widely supported. Responding comments by the audience reflected “The government needs to take the law seriously by enforcing police to take it seriously.”
Audience feedback further agreed that continuing to create awareness in the communities and highlighting the medical dangers, where FGM is practiced, is a prerequisite for ending FGM. “To be able to break the myths around FGM, we need to have open discussions in the communities. With the community elders and the women who performs cutting.” Promoting the understanding that marrying an uncut woman is acceptable is an important element in changing perceptions. Men play a crucial role in the stand against FGM and its eradication.
The event ended with a powerful performance by Spoken Word Africa, who performed texts written for the occasion.
Source: Caroline Hagen