International Day for Zero Tolerance For FGM 2017

Feb 6, 2017

Today, February 6th, marks the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. To mark it, we sat down with our colleague Cess, who works in Kenya, to discuss where we are at with the battle to end FGM/C. Cess works for one of our partners, The Education Centre for the Advancement of Women (ECAW). We work with her in Kuria where, unfortunately, FGM/C is still prevalent.

Even though FGM/C is illegal and there the government communicates a zero tolerance stance towards it, FGM/C is still taking place in Kenya. Why do you think this is?

Female Genital Mutilation / Cutting (FGM/C) is still being practised in Kuria despite the fact it is illegal because, sadly, several needs and attitudes have not changed at a community level.

Ethnic group identity remains immensely important in Kenya. Most communities in Kenya strongly believe in their culture and each community has a unique way of identifying that is different from the others. Unfortunately, in some communities, practising FGM/C is considered an important part of tradition. People still do it because of a strong desire to continue with culture and tradition that has been passed down through generations. Therefore FGM/C is practised to appease peoples’ ancestors, and is also viewed as a rite of passage, to mark the transition from girlhood to womanhood.

Economically, Kuria is one of the poorest areas in Kenya. Most of the community members are farmers. The harsh economy contributes to high poverty levels that continue to be experienced in the area to date. This is a contributing factor because FGM/C is a source of income for some members of the community which includes the clan of elders and some elderly women who are experienced cutters. Some fathers happen to be beneficiaries too. In Kuria, once a girl is cut, she has to drop out of school and get married and a dowry is paid to the father of the girl. The dowry can be used for anything, but often is used to for his sons’ education, as boys are considered of greater value than girls.

Finally, for some, FGM/C still plays a large part in being socially accepted. Many people, both men and women, believe the cut makes a girl more marriageable, yet also controls her sexuality as she grows up. It is also something that brings respect of peers; those who aren’t cut will face a certain amount of stigma and can be ostracised from their friends, family and wider community.

Do you think the UN will reach their target of eradicating FGM/C by 2030?

Yes I think UN can reach their target, it is possible though one may be tempted to think otherwise because of the many challenges that continue to be experienced by organisations working to end FGM/C across so many different countries, so ultimately I’m not certain it is realistic.

However, for this target to be achievable, it’s required that we double efforts, resources and intensify campaigns. I would like to see more partnerships between NGO’s and CBO’s working on FGM/C in the same areas teaming up rather than competing with each other.


Can you tell us about the next phase of work you are starting in Kuria with Feed the Minds?

With my previous answer in mind, ECAW has acknowledged this challenge and is now looking at partnering opportunities with NGO’s working on FGM/C issues within Kuria and in the neighbouring areas to put together experiences and skills doubling efforts and increasing chances of ending FGM/C in Kuria.

With support from Feed the Minds and Orchid Project, we have already succeeded in engaging another NGO, YWCA  working on FGM/C in Kisii and together we are implementing a pilot project “Positive Choices” that was informed by a recently concluded external evaluation. Through the external evaluation we were also able to collect ideas and recommendations from community members for a future project.

The project’s theory of change is structured on a holistic, culturally appropriate and human rights based approach with an aim of maintaining continual dialogues on FGM/C among the community members.

In Kuria, do you feel attitudes are changing? What members of society are driving the change?

Yes, there has been a big improvement. Organizations like ECAW are playing the biggest role in driving the change by keeping open dialogues on FGM/C going. ECAW uses a non-coercive, non-judgemental approach that allows all members of the community to openly share their ideas for deeper learning & deeper understanding into the culture so as to best support the community members to arrive at solutions and approaches that can help them end FGM/C.

The fact that community members who support and those who do not support FGM/C can meet in forums and have open discussions on FGM/C in a respectful way is a great sign. In the past such meetings would rarely happen and if they did, they would be full of tension and would conclude with people walking out of meetings.

Are you hopeful that we will see an end to FGM in your lifetime?

Yes, I am hopeful that we will see an end to FGM/C in my lifetime. I happen to come from the biggest community in Kenya, the Kikuyu community. We used to have FGM/C but it is no longer there. If my community did it, other communities still practising FGM/C can do it too!


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