CONNECT WITH US:
Find us on Facebook
My Jeanne Sauvé co-fellow Rolando Jr Villamero and I have received a financial grant from the Jeanne Sauvé Foundation’s Alumni Collaboration Fund to facilitate the implementation of a project exploring the link between Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and disability in Kenya. The one-year project aims to mobilize persons with disabilities, especially girls and women with disabilities, in the fight against FGM.
Through the support of the Global Observatory for Inclusion (GLOBI), our project intends to publish contents related to FGM and disability. So here is the first one about FGM in Kenya.
What is Female Genital Mutilation?
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a harmful practice. It includes all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons (WHO, 2014). FGM can cause severe pain, bleeding, problems urinating, cysts, infections, infertility, complications in childbirth, and even death. The psychological effects of FGM can include post-traumatic stress and depression. FGM is an expression of gender inequality and a form of gender-based violence, as the UN recognizes in its 2012 resolution calling for the global elimination of FGM (United Nations General Assembly, 2012).
FGM is a global issue. According to UNICEF, more than 125 million women and girls have undergone FGM globally, and over three million more are at risk every year. Across the African continent, where FGM is most prevalent, rates vary by country: Egypt has the world’s highest total number with over 27.2 million women having undergone FGM (equivalent to 91% prevalence), whilst Somalia has the highest recorded prevalence rate at 98%.
more than 125 million women and girls have undergone FGM globally, and over three million more are at risk every year.
FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the rights of women and girls. Many national, regional and international actors have developed programs to advocate for, and support, its abandonment. These efforts have been reinforced by international frameworks, research, work within communities, and changes in laws and policy. There have been rapid developments in recent years, and The Gambia is the latest country to enact a law against FGM.
FGM in Kenya
In Kenya, according to the most recent Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS, 2014), the estimated prevalence of FGM in girls and women (aged 15-49 years) is 21%. The proportion of women who are circumcised varies by ethnic group, with the majority of women in the Somali (94%), Samburu (86%), Kisii (84%), and Maasai (78%) groups being circumcised. In contrast, 2 percent or less of women in the Luo, Luhya, Turkana and Mijikenda/Swahili ethnic groups are circumcised. Rural women (26%) are more likely than urban women (14%) to be circumcised. There are large regional variations; the proportion of circumcised women ranges from 1% in Western to 98% in North Eastern.
Among women age 15-49 who are circumcised, 43% were circumcised between ages 10 and 14, 27% were cut at ages 5-9, and 27% were cut at age 15 or later. More than 80% of women were cut by a traditional circumciser; 15% were cut by a medical professional.
FGM among Girls
Only 3% of girls who are currently under age 15 have been circumcised, indicating a decline of the practice. Among daughters currently 10-14 years of age, 7% have been cut. Circumcision of daughters age 0-14 is most common among the Somali (36%) and Kisii (16%) groups. While traditional circumcisers are still the most common practitioner among girls 0-14 (73%), medical professionals are more commonly performing circumcisions (20%) for this younger cohort.
Circumcision of daughters age 0-14 is most common among the Somali (36%) and Kisii (16%) groups.
Attitudes toward FGM
Overall, only 5% of women and 6% of men age 15-49 in Kenya believe that FGM is required by religion. However, there is tremendous variation by ethnic group. More than 80% of Somali women and men believe that FGM is required by their religion. A slightly higher percentage of women and men believe that FGM is required by the community (8% among women and 11% among men). Only 6% of women and 9% of men age 15-49 think FGM should continue. In addition to the regional and ethnic patterns seen above, there are also patterns by education and wealth. Women and men who are uneducated and those from the poorest households are most likely to say that FGM should continue.
When and Why FGM Happens
In Kenya, FGM is performed mostly on girls aged between 12 and 18. Some studies have shown that girls are now being cut earlier, between the ages of 7 and 12. It is thought that the decrease is to avoid detection as a response to legislation banning the practice. The proportion of women who have undergone FGM declines with age, indicating a decline in the popularity of the procedure in the younger generations. FGM is a deeply rooted cultural practice, although the reasons vary between ethnic groups. For some, such as the Meru, Embu and Maasai, it is an important rite of passage. FGM is closely tied to marriageability for some ethnic groups, such as the Maasai. For some ethnic groups such as the Somali, FGM is linked to concepts of family honour and the need to preserve sexual purity. Along the Kisii, FGM is believed to be necessary to control women’s sexual desires and distinguishes them from their neighbouring Luo ethnic group.
Medicalization of FGM
According to 28toomany, FGM in Kenya continues to be carried out predominantly by traditional circumcisers, for 74.9% of girls aged 0–14 and 83.3% of women aged 15–49. Mary Wandia, a leading activist on end FGM campaign in Kenya, has raised some concern over the increasing medicalisation of FGM in Kenya in recent years, however, with claims that it has risen up to as much as 41% in some areas, and that medical professionals are performing FGM in homes, hospitals or temporary ‘clinics’ during school holidays. Although the most recent Kenyan Demographic and Health Survey (2014) is based on a small sample of women and girls, it does suggest that 14.8% of women aged 15–49 and 19.7% girls aged 0–14 have been cut by a medical professional. Of these, most are carried out by a nurse/midwife. A study in 2016 suggested that Kenya is third in the world for cases of medicalised FGM.
Kenya is third in the world for cases of medicalised FGM.
FGM Law in Kenya
The Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act, 2011 (FGM Act, 2011), which came into effect on 4 October 2011, is the principal legislation governing FGM in Kenya. It is a federal act and criminalises all forms of FGM, regardless of the age or status of a girl or woman. This closed loop holes in the previous law, criminalising all forms of FGM performed on anyone, regardless of age, aiding FGM, taking someone abroad for FGM and stigmatising women who have not undergone FGM. According to 28toomany, there are many local NGOs, CBOs, faith-based organisations, international organisations and multilateral agencies working in Kenya to eradicate FGM. A broad range of initiatives and strategies have been used. Among these are: health risk/harmful traditional FGM practices approach; addressing the health complications of FGM; educating traditional FGM practitioners and offering alternative income; alternative rites of passage (ARPs); religious-oriented approach; legal approach; human rights approach; intergenerational dialogue; promotion of girls’ education to oppose FGM and supporting girls escaping from FGM/child marriage. Due to the diversity in underlying ethnic and cultural traditions and beliefs that underpin FGM, organisations need to tailor anti-FGM initiatives and strategies accordingly. Programmes have worked best in Kenya when they are cooperative and inclusive.
Featured image: Samburu women singing ahead of a rites of passage ceremony in northern Kenya. © Jerome Starkey.
A Jeanne Sauvé Fellow, Esmael is a Programme Officer in Kenya for The Girl Generation, where he contributes towards developing the social movement to end FGM and enabling the scaling up of social change communication. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in International Relations from Unites States International University-Africa.