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Columnists

Communities should lead war on FGM

Girl initiates
Girl initiates about to undergo female genital mutilation near Akwichatis and Nasorot in Tiaty, Baringo County last year. PHOTO | CHEBOITE KIGEN 

As the world marked the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), it is encouraging to note that FGM prevalence reduction has been observed in most countries, Kenya included. Combined efforts from the governments, civil society and communities themselves are mainly responsible for the reduced prevalence.

However, the reduced prevalence rate is far below what the situation calls for and is also marked by different FGM prevalence levels for specific communities

However, this progress is likely to be offset by rapid population growth in countries where FGM occurs, unless efforts to eliminate the practice are urgently stepped up and renewed in light of recent research. It is critical to accelerate initiatives that will meaningfully support communities to take ownership and leadership of the campaign against the practice.

The 2016 United Nations General Assembly report indicates that the single largest factor influencing the continuation of female genital mutilation/cutting is the social acceptance and avoidance of social stigma.

The main reasons for the continuation of FGM are firstly, as a rite of passage from girlhood to womanhood; a circumcised woman is considered mature, obedient and aware of her role in the family and society. Among practicing communities, FGM therefore is a critical factor for a girl qualifying as a ‘woman’ and marriageable.

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Secondly, FGM is perpetuated as a means of reducing the sexual desire of girls and women, thereby curbing sexual activity before, and ensuring fidelity within, marriage. Although religion, aesthetics and social culture have been identified as features which contribute to the practice, FGM remains primarily a cultural rather than a religious practice, occurring across different religious groups.

FGM is generally practised as a matter of social convention, and is interlinked with social acceptance, peer pressure, the fear of not having access to resources and opportunities as a young woman and to secure prospects of marriage. However, the social norms, customs and values that condone and sustain FGM are multi-faceted, vary across countries and even between communities, and can change over time.

FGM includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons . However, FGM has no health benefits at all but comes with both short –term and long-term medical complications. Short-term health consequences include: severe pain; shock; prolonged bleeding; and infection such as tetanus.

Long-term consequences may include: destruction of healthy tissue that leads to abnormal scarring and may lead to formation of fibroids or keloids; repetitive infections of low urinary tract; infertility and even death. It can also lead to increased risk of HIV transmission.

It violates a girl’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.

PETER NGUURA, director, Amref’s End FGM/C Centre of Excellence.

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