Kenya is among 30 countries in the world where practices of female genital mutilation (FGM) are rampant, heavily affecting cycle of girls and women’s socio-economic lives.
The UN children’s fund (UNICEF) released a report early this year in which the country is shown to have made improvements in reducing the prevalent rates.
In the Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A Global Concern report, 21 percent of girls and women between 14 and 49 years had undergone FGM.
This is decline from 27 percent in 2008/2009. However, the actual numbers of girls and women who have gone through the respective experiences are unknown, reports the UN’s children agency.
It is this opaqueness in severity levels that Alfred Ng’eno, who heads East Mau Community Based Organization, struggles with in his fight against the practice, vehemently outlawed in Kenya.
“This is one of the worst seasons (the long November-December holidays when schools are closed). Many girls are cut in private and left to heal silently,” said Ng’eno on Saturday.
He has been campaigning against FGM since 2013 in Mau region in Nakuru County through his registered local organization.
Ng’eno says in his community women are considered children regardless of their age if they are not cut.
From his experience, the newly married women are currently more vulnerable to the vice than girls due to the stigma associated to the men they marry.
“Men who marry uncut women are openly mocked. They are not respected and are sidelined in community decision making circles. To avoid these, they force their wives to be cut,” he said.
“It is a painful reality that married women are an endangered group at the moment,” he said.
Kenya has enacted a Prohibition against Female Genital Mutilation Act which has handed the government and other stakeholders such as Ng’eno the power to fight against the vice and prosecute those found engaging in it.
However, it is something ongoing undercover with husbands and fathers playing critical role in sustaining the practice, according to Ng’eno.
“In my community, at the age of 12, girls are ready for the cut and after that the fathers consider them marriageable. They just marry them off. Although these cases are reducing, the reality that they still exist is a call for concern,” he said.
Ng’eno was touched to stand up for the girls and women in his community after his cousin almost lost her life in 2010 as a result of post-complications of the cut.
The suffering that comes with FGM spreads to the victims’ social and economic life, he said. “The women spend more than a month healing the wounds. They cannot work during this time or be comfortable to socialize with others,” he said.
The fifth goal of UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) enumerates commitment towards elimination of all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere.
Also, elimination of all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.
All these intended to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls all over the world.
UN Women denotes that empowerment of women is a pre-condition to addressing key challenges mainly poverty, inequality and violence against women as envisioned through SDGs.
Making the community understand necessity of abandoning the practice has not been an easy journey as he is viewed as an enemy to the community’s traditions, being a man.
“I have learnt to use different strategies to reach the community with the anti-FGM message,” he noted.
“You invite them into forums on farming but turn the agenda into FGM.” For him, remaining consistent with sensitization drives is the pillar upon which change will come forth.