The Ultimate Price of FGM

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A Maasai girl enjoying a good time with a newly born goat

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a human rights violation, torture and an extreme form of violence and discrimination against girls and women-There is no subtle way to describe it!

Sadly, according to World Health Organization (WHO), more than 200 million girls and women GLOBALLY have undergone FGM, worse still, if current trends continue 15 million girls (between ages 15-19) are at risk of undergoing FGM by 2030. In addition, there are numerous documented cases of girls dying each year due to complications arising from FGM but substantial is difficult to come by.

Contrary to popular belief that FGM is ‘a cultural issue”, in reality, it has socio-economic consequences which impacts on the health, education, livelihoods and general well-being of girls and women. In the course of my activism as well as journalism in Kenya, I have come face to face with the impact of FGM on girls and women among the various communities that still perpetuate the practice.

FGM has been deemed to ‘benefit’ girls and women by ensuring chastity and cleanliness as well as a rite of passage in actual sense it is a perpetuation of misogyny, vicious and violent expressions of patriarchy and sexism that lead to the psychological and physical abuse of women.

Without exception, young girls and women carry the economic burden of FGM since the practice denies them an opportunity to access education thus limiting their chances of being economically productive. Moreover lack of education hinders girls from securing formal employment and limits the nature of livelihood activities they can engage in.

Another issue underpinning the continuation of FGM is the equation of girls to commodities. For instance among the Rendile, Pokot and Maasai (pastoralist) communities in Kenya, it is common practice to trade off girls as dowry and as way of replacing livestock lost during drought or through rustling.  As a result, a girl’s education and future is sacrificed at the expense of her father’s quest for wealth.

By the same token, it is well known that circumcisers, often older ladies, have continued the practice not because of their ‘strong’ belief in culture but purely as a means of eking a living out of innocent girls.  For instance, a year ago, a renowned but now reformed cutter, confessed during an interview with me, that she had made so much money out of her business, spanning 30 years. She boasted of having built a permanent house; one of the best in the village. Unfortunately this wealth has been accumulated against a backdrop of over 5000 girls cut- most of whom eventually dropped out of school and are married off at young ages. (

The practice of FGM is also perpetuated by social institutions in practicing communities. In this regard, local level authorities, charged with the responsibility of arresting FGM perpetrators are routinely bribed. One such revelation, from a Chief I interviewed, who confessed of having made ‘a few’ coins of the practice. In deed it emerged that it is common practice for cutters, parents and community elders to bribe chiefs and police to shield them especially during the cutting ceremonies. Additionally, it has been widely documented that most perpetrators walk out of cells scot free for lack of sufficient evidence to support prosecution. In most instances, politicians have been known to interfere with criminal cases by bribing officials who in turn release the perpetrators by slapping a mild cash bail after which most cases fade away.

Lastly, and on a disappointing note, I have heard of individuals purporting to run grassroots organizations that advocate against the practice yet they are a sham. They have no real intentions of ending the practice and only use their organizations as a conduit to make money out of the poor girls!

Should I also mention schemes by dorner organizations that fake reports to earn donations -that purpose to save these girls but end up misusing the funds? I will leave that to Graham Hancock- Author Lords of Poverty.

Sounds like a scheme right? But the reality for far too many girls and women in Kenya and around the world . Women and girls continue to pay the price of FGM and the price remains way too high!

But then who therefore pays the ultimate price of FGM. I guess you now have th


Also published at Girls Globe









Repositioning FGM as a Gender and Development Issue,60thCSW

Voila! There we go again! A significant step towards eliminating FGM in the entire world! For the first time, in 2016 FGM has been included in the global goals under Sustainable Development goal 5. Target 5.3 Eliminate all harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation. More than 200 million girls and women throughout the world have undergone FGM in Africa, Middle East, Asia, Latin America, Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand, (UNICEF 2013)

Eliminating FGM is a crucial step in achieving many of the other Sustainable Development Goals including targets on health and well-being, education, gender equality, decent work and economic growth. As the practice of FGM continues, the health/well-being of girls and women is threatened and they are denied opportunities for decent work and quality education. For the millions of girls currently at risk of FGM this new global goal brings the promise of a better future.

The just concluded 60th (Commission on the Status of Women) CSW60/NY conference held in New York with the theme: “Women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development” served as a great opportunity for galvanizing political will and engaging a discussion on successful strategies in eliminating the harmful practice of FGM. The event provided a great platform to expand awareness of the key linkages between eliminating FGM, women’s empowerment and the entire SDG agenda. It also increased visibility of member states committed to ending FGM.

The current dominant discourse on ending FGM focusing on the social norm approach does not fully recognize the gender dimension and the development context of this human rights violation. CSW60 sought to shift the dynamic to a developmental approach.
According to social norm perspective, for FGM to be abandoned in a community as whole, social expectations have to change within families, but also across families. This can only happen if a significant number of families within a community make a collective and coordinated choice to abandon the practice, so that no single girl or family is disadvantaged by the decision. For this to succeed, it is essential that members of the community are aware of and trust the intentions of their peers. The importance of peer groups should not be underestimated, as evidence shows that only when information comes from someone similar to oneself is one willing to accept it

While social norm approach provides a better understanding of the social mechanisms that lead to FGM, there is also a need to better understand the economic aspect of FGM.
Women and families in affected communities have higher priorities than the abandonment of FGM such as access to health, education, sanitation, agricultural improvement and food processing, among others. It is crucial to incorporate the abandonment of FGM as a key element in achieving development objectives in these areas. Evidence suggests that when addressed within broader development programmes, FGM prevention interventions are more effective and well received by affected communities, because such programmes assist in overcoming other pressing issues and challenges that affect the daily lives and access to basic needs.

Rather than developing programs focusing exclusively on the prevention of FGM, the most effective interventions both financially and in terms of decreasing prevalence rates seem to be those that address the abandonment of the practice within broader development policies, programmes and projects. Such programmes and projects may focus on sexual and reproductive health and rights (including HIV/AIDS prevention and provision of SRHR services) as well as safe motherhood, child mortality and health and women’s empowerment including access to education and economic opportunities. Others may integrate FGM into more comprehensive programmes on rural and industrial development and poverty reduction.

FGM is a global human rights violation that cuts across Africa, The Middle East, Asia, North America and Europe. The global dimension of FGM requires the development of transnational and transcontinental interventions, focused on building bridges between communities living both in Europe and in affected continents, particularly Africa. Programmes should favor a bottom up approach promoting direct involvement of the whole community and involving all relevant stakeholders, including men young people community leaders, policy makers and the media.

The Commission on Status of Women (CSW) is a global yearly Forum where women activists gather to speak and learn from each other to advocate. The agreed conclusions from the session will contribute to the UNs 2030 sustainable development goals (SDGs) that were adopted by the General Assembly in 2015.