Faiza Jama Mohamed – WNN JUSTICE
(WNN/EN) Nairobi, KENYA, EASTERN AFRICA: Although the practice of female cutting, known as FGM – Female Genital Mutilation continues today in Kenya, a new movement has begun that shows promise for an ‘easier and more tolerant’ society as more and more girls begin to stand up for their rights to refuse the harmful practice. Approximately 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM,
In Kenya the fight against FGM is also a fight against the lack of enforcement of the law to protect children inside the region. Laws providing for child safety and protection through The Children Act in 2001 have been enacted to help children who have a history of little to no rights in the region. Later a more detailed law against FGM was introduced, Kenya’s Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act 2011. But enforcement of the laws continues to be the root of the problem in stopping FGM in its entirety.
“FGM is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage,” outlines the United Nations agency WHO – World Health Organization. “Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons,” continues WHO.
In certain societies worldwide, including Kenya, FGM is too often thought of as an integral part of a daughter’s preparation for marriage and family life. The emphasis with the practice is to discourage a young teenager from engaging in sexual activity before marriage and to encourage the interest of prospective suitors for a daughter.
For Kenyan girls in the Pokot region of Western Kenya, the August and December school holidays are particularly dangerous, as these are when mass female genital mutilation and child marriages are most likely to take place.
Despite the existence of Kenyan laws against FGM and child marriage, it is clear that they are not being implemented in the region to protect girls, some of whom have stayed in school over the holiday period, fearing what might happen should they return to their families – or have run away from home.
Elizabeth from Churo village was barred from attending school by her parents who planned to subject her to FGM and marry her off. She walked for three days before arriving at a rescue center for girls. Her father came to the center and tried to force her back home, but when the center’s management threatened him with police action, he left and did not return.
Alsine from Tangulbei village was pulled out of school by her parents at age 14 and subjected to FGM to ‘prepare her for marriage’. She ran away to her older sister’s home, but her father forcibly removed her from her sister’s home and began marriage preparations. She managed to escape once more, and after spending two nights sleeping outdoors, was directed to a rescue center for girls where she is once again attending school.
Cana Rescue Home, which aided both Alsine and Elizabeth, is one of the few rescue centers in the region. Unfortunately it does not have the capacity or resources to house and educate all the girls who are seeking refuge, nor the ability to indefinitely shelter these girls. NGO rescue centers, while providing an essential service, are not a permanent solution as girls need to grow up within their families and communities.
In Kenya, prevalence rates for FGM and child marriage are approximately 27 percent and 26 percent, respectively, but there are significant regional variations with rates as high as 98 percent in certain regions. FGM is generally performed on girls aged between 12 and 18, but recent studies have shown that girls are being cut as young as age seven.
In the Pokot region, over 50 percent of girls between the ages of 10 and 21 years have been subjected to FGM; local officials indicate that over 80% of girls either do not join school or drop out prematurely after undergoing FGM, as girls are often married off immediately after the procedure. The Pokot government needs to work within communities to protect and support girls and enforce laws to make sure violations are adequately addressed.
When governments do not fulfill their obligations by failing to prosecute clear violations against women and girls, not only women, but all of society loses out. A culture of impunity is enforced, where the rights of the individual are not taken seriously.
Meanwhile, three hundred kilometers south of Pokot, in Narok, an area which also has a high prevalence rate of FGM and child marriage, Equality Now partner, Tasaru Ntomonok Initiative (TNI), has developed a model that incorporates local government and law enforcement officials and chiefs from practicing villages, to strengthen support systems and facilitate enforcement of laws. The implementation of similar interventions by national and regional governments in the Pokot region and throughout Kenya would help to protect and support girls and ensure safe and healthy childhoods.
Reconciliation ceremonies are also organized by the Tasaru rescue centre, one of the institutions supported by Equality Now with funds from Comic Relief. These ceremonies are facilitated by local churches and village elders who are opposed to FGM. The entire village is invited to witness a girl’s safe return to her family. Recently, Sharon returned to her family after living at the Tasaru rescue centre for four years, having learned that her family was planning to subject her to FGM and early marriage. Such success stories are real life evidence that change is possible.
Take Action on this topic with Equality Now. Contact the Kenyan government and local county governors to protect girls to demand that laws against FGM and child marriage should be enforced!
With a Master’s Degree from California State University Fresno, and training on human rights at The Hague in the Netherlands, Ms. Faiza Jama Mohamed has been the Nairobi Office Director for Equality Now in Kenya since 2000. Prior to that she was an active member of the women’s movement in Somalia for many years and was instrumental in the coalition-building of women’s organizations with a focus on promoting peace, gender equality and advocacy for women’s rights. In 1998, she received the Hundred Heroines award for recognition of her activism in support of the human rights of women in Somalia. In 2008, she was awarded the Africa prize of the Hunger Project. She currently serves as a member of the African Union Women’s Committee, which advises the Chairperson of the Commission on women’s rights issues and is a member of the African Women’s Rights Observatory (ARWO) panel, which was launched in April 2007 by the Africa Center for Gender and Social Development of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). She also serves in the Oxfam International Pan Africa Advisory Group since January 2010 and is a Board member of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network which she joined in 2010.
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