FGM fading away in North Eastern Kenya
“I cannot let my two daughters go through what I went through before I got married. Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting is barbaric and inhuman…” says Faiza Hussien who was born in the Habaswein area of Wajir County 28 years ago.
She currently resides in Nairobi where she is married after her first marriage failed terribly due to FGM related issues.
Sadly, Faiza is among hundreds of women from the North-Eastern region who have knowingly or unknowingly gone through infibulation at a tender age which usually involves the partial or total removal of the female genitalia and can cause a host of serious health problems, according to researches done both locally and the United Nations.
In as much as those who encourage the practice involve religion in the whole process, Muslim scholars say the argument holds no water since FGM/C is purely a cultural issue.
To better understand this topic, SMDC has interviewed a victim of FGM/C, an Imam, two health practitioner, and an anti-FGM/C campaigner.
According to the latest statistics by the United Nations Population Fund, the prevalence of FGM for women in Kenya aged 15 to 49 fell from 32% in 2013 to 28% in 2018. This is good news according to Yusuf Mohammed who is the sole male anti-FGM crusader in Garissa County.
Before FGM was outlawed in Kenya, the practice was most prevalent among ethnic Somalis, a community where 94% of women had undergone it according to the 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey.
Why is FGM practiced?
Among the Northerners, Female circumcision is discussed in hushed tones in as much as it is widely practiced in 3 out of 5 homes. But why? Reasons used to sustain the practice relate to religious obligation, family honor, and virginity as a prerequisite for marriage.
A major contributing factor to FGM is the men in such communities who insist that they cannot marry someone who hasn’t undergone the cut. Some of the girls who survived the cut get divorced once their husbands realize they didn’t undergo FGM/C.
To some, the cut is part of their ‘rich culture’, and abandoning it, is diverting from the norm and that is why in some instances, Somali families even in the developed countries travel back home to have their daughters circumcised before the age of 10.
Women’s education may also have a spurious correlation with women’s FGM/C rates, particularly in areas where cutting occurs at early ages before a girl has completed her education
Among the Somalis, female genital cutting remains a deeply rooted cultural practice that is widely supported.
“For instance, I underwent a procedure known as Gudma firown, in which the outer parts of the female genitalia are chopped off and the vagina is sewn up, leaving only a small passage for urine and menstrual blood,” says Faiza Hussein.
The Somali community from which she comes from, greatly believes that the cutting enables girls to remain sexually pure until marriage hence containing promiscuity among the young girls.
“It is a very painful process since no anesthesia is used and even those who do the cutting are not medical experts neither do they practice hygiene during the process.
It gets worse when one starts her menstruation. I would miss school and cry all day behind the house because of extensive pain adds Faiza.
Yusuf is a renowned household name in Garissa and beyond in as far as FGM matters are concerned.
“I vividly remember seeing my older sister suffer from the effects of female genital mutilation at a tender age. It is not something I would want anyone, not even my enemy go through. That is how I started my own anti-FGM crusade.
Alhamdulillah, I have made strides in my campaigns and managed to convince hundreds of my people to turn away from the practice, despite intense opposition from local elders and even relatives.” says Yusuf.
Garissa, Mandera and Wajir counties continue to witness the practicing of FGM that have prevalence rates of over 90% with the crusaders alluding to the fact that lack of funds, insecurity has hampered their campaigns, especially in remote locations.
Government to end FGM by 2022?
Despite the Kenyan government outlawing the practice 9 years ago, FGM/C has continued to be practiced in some communities especially in the North where it is believed it is necessary for social acceptance and increases marriage prospects.
“Kenya commits to eliminate female genital mutilation by 2022,” President Uhuru Kenyatta told a global summit on sexual and reproductive health and rights as part of a series of commitments made by his administration.
During the three-day conference held at Kenyatta International Conference Centre, KICC, Uhuru added that; “Kenya will eliminate all forms of gender-based violence and harmful practices by 2030 through the strengthening of coordination mechanisms and by addressing cultural norms that propagate these practices”.
The summit was attended by more than 6,000 participants – including heads of state, government ministers, financial institutions, donors, and civil society groups from 160 nations.
What does the law say?
In 2011, the National Assembly passed a law that specifically criminalized FGM. Under this legislation, ‘anyone who conducts FGM, who pays someone else to perform the practice either in Kenya or abroad, or who provides premises to carry it out, is guilty of an offense. Possession of instruments used in FGM is outlawed, as is failing to report the act’.
Either, according to the provisions in the Kenyan Constitution, ‘Anyone convicted of these offenses can go to prison for between three and seven years, and be fined 500,000 Kenyan shillings. If a girl dies as a result of FGM, those responsible can be convicted of murder.
However, according to the 2018 report on FGM by Kenya’s inspector general of police that was made public by Joseph Boinnet, there were relatively few convictions of those who were found capable of practicing, sponsoring, or aiding FGM in Kenya.
Also, between 2011 and 2014, a total of 71 cases were taken to court. Of those, only 16 resulted in convictions. There were 18 acquittals, four cases were withdrawn, and 33 are pending.
DPP’s take on FGM/C convictions
The office of the Director of Prosecution in Kenya, Noordin Haji continues to face challenges in their effort to prosecute the perpetrators main reason being lack of evidence.
Christine Nanjala who is a State Prosecutor and headed the FGM unit in Haji’s office, says most of the offenders have not been brought to justice since the greatly rely on the victims to report the crimes.
Either, the prosecution department always has a difficult time persuading witnesses to testify in cases where minors are involved.
Naivety and lack of knowledge of the minors have also been a major setback in the prosecution of such cases since the victims don’t view FGM/C as a crime.
Either, most of the time, the clans that practice FGM/C are closely knitted that they can never reveal those who practice it, and hence the State needs more intelligence officers on ground to gather information on the same.
Health experts take on FGM
“Female Genital Mutilation and or Cutting poses a significant health risk that is beyond the psychological consequences of undergoing pain, trauma, and mutilation,” says Doctor Jane Shisoka, a medic at the Agha Khan University in Nairobi.
“septicemia, urine retention, anemia, cysts, keloid scar, vulval abscess, pelvic infections, infertility, fistula, menstrual disorders, and vulvar ulcers are some of the post effects if the practice.” She says.
His sentiments are echoed by Dr. Ahmed Hussein, a gynecologist at Karen Hospital in Nairobi who added that apart from the trauma, the victims may at times suffer from infection, heighten dangers associated with childbirth such as hemorrhaging, and most but not least denies women their sexual rights.
“In some cases, girls can bleed to death or die from infections. It can also cause lifelong painful conditions such as fistula and fatal childbirth complications” added Dr. Ahmed.
After the cut, a girl’s legs are tied up tightly for 2 weeks or more so that scar tissue essentially ‘seals her up’, leaving only a small hole for the passage of urine and menses. Many girls emerge from it psychologically scarred as well. Wedding nights are often a nightmare.
Medically, victims of FGM/C undergo pain due to the obstruction of the vaginal opening, which may lead to bleeding during sexual intercourse, childbirth complications, and obstetric fistula. In some cases, women have to be cut open later to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth.
De-linking FGM/C from Islam
In the Holy Qoran, no verse speaks about circumcision of females. Islam calls for the circumcision of men but not women.
“It is just ignorance of those who decide to practice FGM/C hiding under religion (sunnah). This is purely a cultural practice and remains at that. If you read the whole Qoran you will agree with me that those who argue that FGM/C is Islamic are liars” weighed in Shiekh Mohammed Abdullahi.