By Catherine Nyambura
School holidays are normally calls for celebration especially if one is in a boarding school and is away from home for almost three months with an exception of two to three days during half term. However this is not the case for some girls. In most communities in Kenya where FGM is practiced school holidays - April, August and December - are the times when FGM is widely practiced and early marriage too. In April 2014, Kenya lost a girl from Kajiado who died from FGM while her peers with whom they were being mutilated together had to be rushed to hospital with serious medical complications.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. FGM happens primarily in Africa, especially in North-Eastern, Eastern and Western Africa. It also occurs in Middle East, South- East Asia and in Europe. According to estimates by WHO 150 million women are affected by FGM world wide. In Europe, the number of mutilated women or girls and women threatened by FGM amounts to 500.000.
FGM is done to girls as young as 3 years old but predominantly the target age is 7-18 year old girls. It would be difficult to know if a 3 year old has undergone it because of complete parental control. In some communities, the social stigma towards girls and women who have not undergone FGM is too much and they are forced to use the autonomy of informed consent argument. In Kenya, the prevalence of FGM ranges from 0.8% in the west to over 97% in the north-east where the worst form of FGM, Infibulation, is practiced.The prohibition of FGM Act 2011 has been passed into law in Kenya, the ACT criminalizes all forms of FGM regardless of age or status, stigmatization on women who haven’t undergone FGM and/or aiding or failing to report the practice done on a Kenyan. The penalties include 3 - 7 years in prison, life imprisonment for causing death and a fine amounting to Kshs.0.5M.
This August, I urge all youth change makers to be actively involved in protecting girls from this vice that puts girls lives at risk . There are many organizations working with sexual and reproductive health and rights. In the event one is in Kenya please report to the police gender desks, write a message to us on https://www.facebook.com/dandelionkenya or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Being in touch with medical and health professionals to help save girls lives is also very crucial and most importantly advocacy against FGM through inter-generational dialogues, alternative rites of passage in collaboration with religious and other fundamental institutions to avoid FGM as the only mark of initiation for our girls. Culture is not static, it is flexible and dynamic hence we have to review what our culture offers, shed the negatives and move forward with the positive. FGM is one of the negatives that must be shed. When girls are mutilated they are most often traded for marriage, which adds more foundation to the poverty cycle, discrimination and inequality that plagues women and girls