North-South Cooperation in Fighting FGM with new Strategies

Nice Nailentei Leng’ete (Left)- Amref Ambassador with Laura Boldrini (Right) handshaking during a private meeting in Italy. (Photo Courtesy: Nice Leng’ete)

In recent years, it has become evident that international cooperation is important in promoting inclusive and sustainable development, especially in view of achieving internationally agreed upon development agendas. African countries recognize the importance of these partnerships for enhancing and consolidating the growth of the continent.

As such, many African states have benefitted from the traditional North-South cooperation, through the sharing of experiences, technical assistance as well as cooperation on the part of other developing and emerging countries. It is along such lines that the Anti FGM campaign has been able to pick up the much necessary momentum after years of lip service.

Whereas the campaign against FGM has had a long history, it has for a long time been confined to board rooms and workshops with little by way of targeted grassroots campaigns. For instance as recent as 2010 Kenya did not have an official policy addressing FGM and relied upon Presidential decrees. However with the Anti-FGM policy put in place, 2011, there has been considerable investment of resources and strategies from the North.

How did this happen? A number of factors have been combined to bring about the necessary north-south cooperation. For instance in the south, Kenya like many African countries had for years grossly underfunded many women centered development priorities. The promulgation of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010, changed the scene. This supreme law called for an end to harmful cultural practices and was quickly followed by the enactment of the Anti FGM act. The legislation provided for an institution- The Anti-FGM Board- with the mandate to undertake public education on the dangers and legal consequences of carrying out the practice, but which unfortunately remained underfunded to meet the demand of its mandate.

In the north, the international immigration crisis brought FGM to the doorstep of the developed north. Waves of migrants from nations that practice FGM began arriving and settling and with it brought their deep-rooted cultural practices such as FGM. Whereas the developed north had hitherto been known to only condemn the practice, the changing dynamics required a more proactive approach both home and abroad.

It is in this context that a new impetus to fund anti-FGM work at the grassroots by organizations based in the north came about.  Notably the Guardian Media UK launched an EndFGM Academy, 2015, in some of the FGM affected Africa countries (Kenya, The Gambia and Nigeria). The Guardian pioneered in identifying and training of young activists on the use of both new and traditional media to end FGM.

The use of media has been a powerful tool in influencing perceptions and educating people about the realities of FGM. The media has also broadened the engagement platform, reach and visibility of anti FGM efforts. The use of activists has on the other hand built upon young people who are playing a leadership role in the community and have what it takes to be future opinion leaders and shapers in their respective communities.
Similarly ,The Girl Generation, an Africa led global movement aimed at ending FGM within a generation, focuses on building a critical mass for change which helps unlock regional, national and international commitments to increase resources that can sustain and scale up efforts to end the practice. Among its approaches is the use of ambassadors, youth networks and social change communication-(transforming social norms underpinning the practice of FGM) which is in effect causing a good trickle-down effect of reaching practicing communities.

The use of networks has created much needed synergy and momentum required in the campaign to end FGM while the use of ambassadors has built upon individuals who have scaled up FGM campaign to national and global attention.

Among other notable strategies include Alternative rites of Passage (ARPs) spearheaded by AMREF Health, in Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia. ARPs allows a girl to safely transition to womanhood without undergoing the emotional and physical risk of FGM whilst preserving a communities’ culture. ARPs has been adopted by the United Nations as a model of eradicating FGM.

Another approach which has registered significant efforts and currently being undertaken in Djibouti, Mali, Guinea, Senegal, Somalia, The Gambia, and Mauritania is Tostan. Tostan is a human rights Community Empowerment Program that allows community members to draw their own conclusions about FGM and lead their own movements for change. The program also focuses on community public declarations which are critical in the process for abandonment and necessary for building critical mass, eventually leading FGM to becoming a thing of the past.

Elsewhere, 28TooMany is consistently working on research around Africa where FGM is practiced (28countries) and across the diaspora. They also advocate for the global eradication of FGM and work closely with other organizations in the violence against women sector. Research and data is a crucial element that tactically guides Anti-FGM strategies and campaign.

UNICEF/UNFPA joint program accelerates abandonment in Africa and Arab countries where it works by using a human rights- based and culturally sensitive approach. The program also supports health and protective services for those adversely affected. Initiated in 2007, the joint program aims at strengthening National Policies/legislations, training health practitioners on FGM response and care, public declarations of abandonment by communities and declarations by both religious and traditional leaders disowning any religious requirement of FGM.

Together with Member States, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted resolution 67/146: Intensifying Global Efforts for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilations. Co- sponsored by 150 countries, the resolution underscored the fact that the practice of FGM/C is a violation of the human rights of women and girls and called for stronger global efforts to end it.

FGM sometimes threatens the lives of girls and women, thereby violating their human rights to life, liberty, and security of the person. Additionally, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa explicitly recognize that practices harmful to women such as FGM are violations of human rights.

The Africa Union 4th Conference of Ministers of Social development launched a campaign to End Child Marriage in its member states. The campaign has already been launched in 12 out of the 15 member countries. It is important to note that in most communities, the practice of FGM more often than not precedes early/forced marriage.

What these efforts have in common is the support in terms of resources and financing that is coming from the north with campaigns being led by local activists many of whom are beginning to gain the attention for their efforts in eradicating FGM in their countries

The North- South cooperation has resulted in accelerated efforts to end FGM evident in the recent ban of FGM in countries like Nigeria and The Gambia.  A drop in FGM overall statistics in some countries, Public Community declarations are some of the tangible results that can be recorded. Non tangible results can be quantified in the increased reportage of FGM cases, a surge in involvement of young people and institutions in Anti-FGM Campaigns, increased awareness, launch of regional campaigns such as the Saleema Campaign in Sudan, Not in My Name campaign in Sierra Leone and the global He for She campaign.

One of the biggest setback in eliminating FGM is medicalization of the practice. Currently more than 18% of all FGM is performed by healthcare providers and the disturbing trend is only increasing.  Medicalization of FGM wrongfully legitimates the procedures and can contribute to the damaging perception that FGM is right. FGM practice no matter who carries them on still represent a major human rights violations. In effect, some governments have passed bills that include revoking of licenses by doctors and nurses that perform FGM, Kenya being a good example.

Prevalence of FGM

It is estimated that about 100-140 million women worldwide have undergone FGM, with an additional three million girls and women undergoing the procedure every year.  FGM is prevalent in about 28 African countries and among a few minority groups in Asia. Prevalence varies significantly from one country to another.  For example, the prevalence rate is 92% in Mali, compared to 28% in Senegal.  In addition, there are many immigrant women in Europe, Canada, and the United States who have undergone FGM.  It is estimated that 15% of all circumcised women have undergone the most severe form of FGM: infibulation, which involves the stitching and narrowing of the vaginal opening-approximately 80% to 90% of all circumcisions in Djibouti, Somalia and Sudan are of this type.

Twelve industrialized countries that receive immigrants from countries where FGM is practiced include; Australia, Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, and United States have passed laws criminalizing the practice.  In Australia, six out of eight states have passed laws against FGM.  In the United States, the federal government and 17 states have criminalized the practice.

One country France has relied on existing criminal legislation to prosecute both practitioners of FGM and parents procuring the service

TOGETHER TO END FGM

Kenyan Youth Officially Launch a National Anti-FGM Youth Network

Members of the Kenya Anti-FGM Youth Network celebrating the launch #YouthPower

 On 17th August 2016, a number of young males and females from Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) practicing communities around Kenya congregated at the Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) to officially launch a National Anti-FGM Network under a trending hashtag #YouthPower!
The event was sponsored by The Girl Generation (TGG), an Africa led campaign that aims at eliminating FGM in one generation among Africa countries. Led by Global Director Dr. Faith Mwangi-Powell, TGG was happy to partner with the visionary youths in Kenya to end FGM. In her recorded video speech, Dr. Faith said that she will be a mentor to the young people and that she will continuously support their projects and activities geared towards eliminating the practice. She encouraged the network members to converge all their unique talents and abilities towards fighting FGM.

The high energy and colorful ceremony also brought together other partners and stakeholders whose core goal is to end FGM in Kenya. They included; Chairperson Anti-FGM Board, Dr.Jebii Kilimo, Office of The Director Of Public Prosecution, Ms. Christine Nanjala, Child Protection Unit, UNICEF Kenya, Mr. Bernard Kuria.

The celebration was kicked off with a lively music performance by Dennis Mugiira, YWCA Youth Representative followed by another music performance from one of the network member Solomon Mtunasi whose music piece speaks on the adverse effects caused by FGM. The song titled ‘Ukeketaji ni hatari’ Swahili phrase, meaning ‘FGM is quite harmful’ is meant to urge perpetrators of the act to abandon the practice. After the hyped performance, he paved way for the Chairperson of the Network, Mr. Omar Nasteh.

Mr. Omar Nasteh, Chaiperson Kenya Anti-FGM Youth Network giving his welcome remarks

Mr. Omar started off by welcoming and thanking all partners who were present. In his welcoming remarks, he pointed out that FGM is a global issue and that it concerns everyone. ‘Everyone is an ambassador to their community,’ Said Mr. Omar. ‘We will encounter various challenges in our journey to end FGM but that will not discourage us,’ He added. Omar who hails from a high prevalence region; Kenya’s Somali community where the practice is at 93% (highest in Kenya) was happy to be part of a movement that he believes will offer him a great platform to galvanize his community towards abandoning the practice. He for sure was happy about his position as the chairperson for the network. He promised to give his team great support and strategic direction towards realizing its vision.
Taking over was Bernard Kuria, UNICEF Kenya, in his presentation he expounded on the changing social norms surrounding FGM. He started by sharing the statistics mainly the FGM county and national statistics in relation to child marriage numbers. Currently, The Kenya Demographic Health Survey {KDHS 2014} reveals that FGM prevalence is at 21%,  a 6% drop over the past decade.

Bernard highlighted that there are various myths surrounding the practice of FGM and that all are mere social constructs that can only be changed through education. He too urged men to join in the fight.

Christine Nanjala, ODPP, assured members on the implementation of the Anti-FGM Act. She said that her office is currently keeping track of FGM cases and that they are able to release monthly reports. She insisted that everyone has a role to play to ensure that FGM perpetrators are brought to book. She also pointed out that her department is quite aware of the gaps in the existing law and that they are working with the various stakeholders to ensure that the law is fully efficient.

ODPP Christine Nanjala during her speech

The otherwise jubilant room was sent to a somber mood during Alice Masinte’s speech.  Alice, one of the network member, who is an FGM survivor narrated her journey before and after the FGM act. Her sweet sour story is an inspiration to many FGM survivors; that there is a future after the cut. She was happy that through dialogue with her father she has been able to rightfully save her sisters from the cut. She, together with a few other youths from her region (Loitoktok) started a Community Based Organization; Network of Youths in Action (NOYA); a CBO that empowers young girls in primary schools to understand the effects of FGM. NOYA also works with Morans (teenage maasai warriors) under a program called Morans for Girls Education and Empowerment (M4GEE) where Morans lead in the struggle to save girls from the cut whilst championing for their education. Alice is the key ambassador for NOYA projects, she prides in her zeal to save more and more girls from the cut.

Audience inclined to Alices’ story

After Alice’s story, the rooms’ previous ambiance was restored by a music performance by Mweledi. Mweledi who is also a network member uses his music piece to urge communities to abandon gender based violence, FGM being one of them.

The ceremony was also a perfect moment to unveil the recently appointed TGG ambassadors. Hassan Adan Mulata, Peter Macharia and Seleiyan Partoip were glad to have been picked up to represent TGGs projects in Kenya. The ambassadors come from FGM practicing communities in Kenya and run grassroots organizations meant to drive out the practice.

Hamimu Masudi, TGG Kenya Cordinator, Introducing The Ambassadors

The presence of the Chairperson Anti-FGM board was loud. Dr. Jebii Kilimo was pleased by the work of the young people in Kenya. She was proud of the founding of the network sighting that it is the first ever initiative by the youths in Kenya. She was happy that such energy coupled with her dockets’ will intensify the fight to end FGM in Kenya and Africa as a whole. She urged the network members to remain objective in their struggle to eradicate FGM.  After her remarks she finally unveiled the networks new logo.

Chairperson Anti-FGM board giving her congratulatory remarks as she unveils the new logo

The logo that captures a Pan-African spirit was ceremoniously welcomed with a music performance by Francis Odhiambo (Foreman), and Rose who are also network members. The music piece that was recently released with close to 5,000 views ‘Say No to FGM’ urges everyone that they can make a difference by saying no to the practice. The piece also highlights on the effects of FGM.

‘Foreman’ and Rose performing a music piece ‘Say No to FGM’ during the unveiling of the new logo

It was evident that the youth were full of energy and that they contain various talents as well as immense ability to use the current technology to intensify the fight to end FGM. They sang and danced to the various artistes within their own network. They also tweeted every moment of the event.

ABOUT THE KENYA ANTI-FGM NETWORK

The Kenya Anti-FGM Youth Network was founded late last year (2015) as a result of strategic advice by The Girl Generation during a youth training on Monitoring and Evaluation for Social Change Communication. The network, through its member volunteerism has grown to a national movement with focal county youth representatives. It has over a short period of time spearheaded activities meant to create awareness on FGM and partnerships with other stakeholders working to end FGM. Its recent participation in the #Maasai7s Rugby event in Kajiado, Maasailand and The #MarsabitYouthChapterLaunch, Marsabit are some of the high key activities with great outputs that they have so far initiated.

The network has a yearly work plan with various activities that it aims to execute together with its targeted partners.

It is also inclusive such that it comprises of both males and females across FGM practicing communities. It remains gender sensitive by promoting equity and equality evident in its leadership structure where key positions are occupied by an equal number of males and females.

#YouthPower

Under its vision, the network hopes to not only tackle FGM but also address other pertinent issues such as Early Marriage, HIV AIDs, sexual reproductive health, climate change, youth unemployment and access to opportunities as well as other cross cutting issues around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The Challenges 

The youth encounter unsurmountable challenges in their struggle to bring about positive change in the society. Such challenges include: unequal representation in leadership and decision making processes of the countrys’ key agendas

Culturally the youth are considered voiceless. They are viewed as young and inexperienced hence not able to give valid opinion.

Additionally, the youth lack resources to propel their agendas. As much as the government allocates the budget for the youth, it remains hard for the youth to access the funds due to the massive corruption in the system.

Finally, the youth lack vehicles to push for their agendas. The now launched network is a birth of a new vehicle that will drive the envisioned goals of this network to its rightful destination.

 #YouthPower

Fighting vs Managing FGM

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?

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, the youth can indeed end FGM!

Children and young people up to the age of 24 account for up to 70 percent of the population of most developing countries. They represent enormous potential for social and political change indicators for four of the eight Millennium Development Goals. (MDG 2,3,4 and 6) specifically mention girls and boys at the target group for other MDG’s particularly in the field of sex and reproductive health.

We are the Change agents,  the Revolutionists. A new beginning starts with us. A new world is definitely moulded by us. We are the voice and the the driving force behind the developments to eliminate harmful customs and traditional practices.

We are the Pacesetters,  the determiners, the future of the next generation is destined in us. We are the shapers of this world, we can shape it the best way possible since we have the power to advocate for change.

We are the innovators, most creative ideas generate within us. We have the right technology that we can incorporate in our campaign to end FGM.

We have the energy to work, energy to lead, ability to influence decision making, ability to influence policy formation and law enforcement.

We have unique talents: ability to sing, write and dance. We can use our various talents to drive Anti-FGM messages home. We have the energy, our concerted effort can wipe out the practice.

We are the future leaders, doctors, midwives, social workers, teachers. We are therefore supposed to take up the leadership roles now. We are practically the leaders of our countries. Let us use this power to direct and influence change.

It is necessary that we learn now why FGM and early child/forced marriages is wrong so that we can grow in a society that condemns these practices. Do we in the first place really know about the practice? How can we influence change without the knowledge? Let’s start by empowering young people with the right information through education. Education is key in eradicating this practices, we need to pioneer for interactive resources that can be used in a classroom setting, both formal and informal education, Mali, Kenya and Burkina Faso have done it. This way children do not accept FGM unquestionably as an inviolable tradition. Through education, young people learn to think for themselves and make decisions for themselves and future families.

We need to realize that we can not work as stand-alone entities. Let’s come together, tap into available resources, converge all our unique talents and abilities, form  national movements, speak with one voice and move with synergy towards eradicating FGM and other social malpractices. Let’s create a national dialogue, engage the key players and create relationship with all the activists campaigning against FGM.

Let us not focus on teaching young people solely from FGM affected background, it is necessary to educate all young people. FGM is a human right abuse and therefore “Everybody’s business”
image

It is my business..

There is a future after the cut…

Group of Youth around Kenya and their support leaders during The Girl Generation Conference
Group of Youth around Kenya and their support leaders during The Girl Generation Conference

Working with activists, survivors, support groups, organizations whose core goal is ‘Ending FGM in Kenya’, I meet Alice Masinte at The Girl Generation conference. A conference that encouraged the youth to dialogue towards concerting effort to end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Kenya.

Alice,25, third born in a family of ten (four girls and six boys), underwent the cut in 2002 while she was in class six.

“The pain was excruciating, they cut off everything,” she explains her ordeal during a brief interview with me. I can clearly see the pain in her eyes as she stops to talk for a minute and breaks down. This is heart wrenching…and immediately sends shudders through my veins. I can feel her pain.

She gathers courage and continues, “the procedure was so  crude,  I almost bled to death.” 

Even before she had healed, her father was still at it. He had secretly received dowry payment and arranged that she marries an old man enough to be her fathers age.
This,she learnt from her mother who helped her to escape to a nearby catholic church.
She was enrolled at a local Catholic Missionary School and after intense counselling,now fully recovered she resumed her studies.

She became a pariah at home but concentrated on her studies. She performed well and was admitted to Egerton University where she pursued a diploma course in Agriculture and Extension.

Alice got a job as a Biology and Agriculture teacher in Kisumu at a girls school.
Now enjoying fruits of a learned professional, she joined hands with like minded village peers from Loitoktok and launched a campaign to fight FGM.

Network of Youths in Action (NOYA) was born bringing together 99 youth. She was elected as the founding chairlady as well as the key ambassador.

She quit her teaching job and now focuses on visiting local primary and secondary schools teaching girls on the effects of the cut while encouraging especially those who have undergone the cut that there is life after the experience.

She urges parents not to subject girls to the cut because it does not make them superior than those uncut. It only subjects them to pain and other adverse health complications. 

NOYA has been working with morans under a program called Morans for Girl Child Education and Empowerement (M4GEE). They have successfully been able convince morans to lead in the fight to end FGM. They have also involved local leaders and even religious leaders in their dialogue.

She is grateful that her zeal has been able to save her youngest sister and a few other girls, since they have rightfully escaped the cut. She vows to save more girls.

Alice is Shrewd, I admire her courage and determination. I feel success in her struggle to end FGM.