FGM/C is a very sensitive and often A taboo issue enshrined within complex political, social, cultural and religious perceptions that go to the gender identity and gender relations.
Any efforts to end FGM/C can result in damaging consequences,driving the practice underground,undermining existing efforts to end the practice,putting individuals at risk,stigmatising those that have undergone FGM/C and adding broader political or cultural tensions.
The approach on how to eradicate FGM/C should therefore be very tactical across the practicing communities. The process of change is riddled with resistance and protest and this is unavoidable when social change begins to take place. It is hard to convince people to stop a culture that they hold on so dearly. It is their way of life. And they are somehow blind to the damaging effects.
The discourse surrounding FGM/C needs to change from engagement based on fear, power and ignorance to one of hope, empowerment and knowledge.
Anti-FGM campaigners need to understand the reasons why a community practices FGM, then plan out a practical acceptable solution.
Common reasons why FGM/C is practiced include: to increase marriageability, as a rite of passage to prepare a girl for marriage and adulthood, to ensure premarital virginity and morality ,to curb sexual desires and reduce woman libido, for femininity and modesty and as a cultural tradition. But these reasons vary across communities.
The Government of Kenya passed a bill prohibiting the practice of FGM. The Act outlaws the carrying out of FGM/C on both girls and women; safeguards them against any form of violation; outlaws any person from performing FGM/C; prohibits the use of premises to perform FGM/C and the possession of tools or equipment for FGM/C; Further, failure to report the commission of FGM/C; or committing FGM/C on a Kenyan in another country; or using derogatory language on any person who has declared ‘No’ to FGM/C are considered crimes.
According to the Act, ignorance will not be accepted as a line of defense by a perpetrator; neither will the claim that FGM/C is part of a cultural, religious, or other custom or practice. The Prohibition of FGM Act 2011 is, therefore, a vital legal framework in the fight against this harmful practice.
This was seen as a move to manage the practice. In the real sense, the practicing communities feel they are being ‘coerced’ to stopping the practice. It has therefore been hard to prosecute the perpetrators.
Former Somaliland ‘s First Lady Edna Adan, says that while laws are a right direction to curbing FGM/C, they must be matched with practical solutions as enforcement is a big challenge. She adds that legislation only works when the majority of the people respect them. But when the majorities are committing violations, the few that support the law lack the muscles to enforce the same laws because they cannot put 99% of the community in jail!
Anti – FGM/C laws in Africa countries are gathering dust because enforcement may mean incriminating every grandmother who perpetrates the practice.
I came across a brilliant approach employed by The Girl Generation in managing FGM/C -Social change communication: communication which speaks to the motivations behind the practice and identifies the very real personal and social barriers that hinder abandonment of FGM. Communication which provides alternative, opens up debate and discussion in the public sphere, prompts individuals to question their acceptance of the practice and increasingly builds confidence to speak against it.
For FGM to end there needs to be a positive transformation in the way that girls are valued, and in the beliefs and social norms that underpin FGM.
Alternative Rites of Passage (ARPs) is also a practical option towards managing FGM. This approach offers the communities that practice FGM/C an alternative rite of passage where girls are “secluded” for one week for empowerment workshops with their mothers and other female role models. At the end of the week, family and community members gather to celebrate the girls’ passage into adulthood.
The girls perform uplifting songs and dances, and local leaders, especially women, give speeches. And, instead of genital cutting, a cake is cut to celebrate the girls entering womanhood! Women’s Global Education Project (WGEP) call it “Circumcision with words”
The workshop is aimed at creating awareness on the effects of FGM/C and promote the value of educating girls who are however married off immediately after FGM/C especially among the Maasai Community.
Incorporating FGM/C in the school curriculum is a great move towards managing FGM/C. When children are taught about FGM/C and learn about the effects, they will not unquestionably accept FGM/C as an inviolable tradition, they will therefore think for themselves and make decisions for themselves and their future families.
Revoking licenses from doctors that perform and abet the practice of FGM/C is a great move towards managing the Medicalization aspect of FGM/C.
My question is: what happens to the thousands that have already undergone FGM/C and are suffering the effects in silence. Are there mechanisms in place by the Ministry of Health to help Manage the affected women and girls?