6th February is International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation. FGM cannot be compared to the initiation rites that boys face. Removal of the foreskin, while painful is not comparable to the cutting, slashing and stitching that comprises Female Genital Mutilation. FGM is the removal of part or all of the female genitalia.
Founded on the Kenyan Constitution is the Prohibition of FGM Act No32 of 2011 which became law on 4th October 2011. There are nine main offences provided under this law including the prevention of medical practitioners or any person from performing FGM on another person. Punishment is imprisonment above 3 years or a fine above Kshs 200,000. One can also not aid in FGM or hire a person from another country to carry out FGM or take a person out of the country to have FGM carried out. In all the offences, the law does not allow a person taken to court to claim that cultural requirements, religious beliefs, consent of the victim of ignorance of the law was the reason for the act.
The Anti-FGM Board is the main government agency responsible for managing programs on FGM. According to the Anti-FGM Board the campaign has been successful as prevalence has dropped from 37 per cent in 2008 to 21 per cent in 2014, according to the most recent demographic health survey.
In spite of this law, many communities in Kenya still view FGM as a critical part of a girls’ development within the community. Girls who do not undergo ‘the cut’ are seen as unclean. Most cannot marry and are shunned by the community. 7 years after the law came into effect, we still hear stories of girls fleeing their homes to escape ‘the cut’. Most cuts are now performed in secrecy for fear of legal reprisals on both the victims and the traditional surgeons. Children are also being circumcised at a tender age, and often at night.
Recently, it has been reported that a female medical doctor has filed a case at the Machakos High Court seeking to have FGM legalized. Dr. Tatu Kamau said that outlawing FGM is against the culture of many African countries and should be revived. According to her, women should have a right to choose what to do with their bodies.
Unfortunately, FGM is usually targeted towards young girls in primary and secondary school. Many of them are quickly married off after the rite forcing them to drop out of school. The practice seems less like a rite of passage and more as a way to subdue and subjugate women. More than one man has been known to comment that without FGM women would become uncontrollable sex fiends. In truth, FGM causes great damage to women’s bodies as the resulting scar tissue leaves only a small opening for urine and menstrual blood to pass through. This makes sex painful and adds to the risk of complications during childbirth.
7 years down the line and while some strides have been made in the fight against FGM in Kenya, we still have a long way to go.