Female Genital Mutilation in Kenya
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines female genital mutilation (FGM) as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” The WHO highlights that FGM is a violation of human rights and holds no health benefits for females. Instead, it causes health complications such as excessive bleeding, infections, urinary issues and even death. In countries such as Kenya, the practice is prevalent among communities. UNICEF reported in 2021 that about 4 million females have undergone female genital mutilation in Kenya. Additionally, with the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, cases of female genital mutilation in Kenya have risen even further. The Constitution of Kenya entrenches women’s and children’s rights to good health and protection from acts of abuse or detrimental cultural practices. 

Young Girls at Risk

In Kenya, the genital mutilation procedure occurs at various ages and certain ethnic groups conduct the procedure after a girl turns 15. Other communities perform the procedure on girls as young as 9 or 10. Concern Worldwide says Kenyan girls choose to undergo this risky procedure “in order to maintain their social standing and, eventually, improve their chances of a good marriage.”

The risk for FGM across Kenya tends to be higher in rural areas and among poorer and less educated households. According to The Conversation, girls in Kenya often undergo female genital mutilation during school holiday periods. Due to the long absence from school, girls have more “time to heal from the procedure without scrutiny.” At the end of the school year, schools in Kenya close for roughly two months.

Abolishing Female Genital Mutilation in Kenya

In 2011, Kenya’s government outlawed FGM. The Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act (2011) passed on September 30, 2011, making FGM a criminal offense in Kenya. Courts punish incidents of FGM through a three-year jail sentence, a $2,000 fine or both. In the event that an FGM procedure leads to mortality, the offender will be subject to life imprisonment.

Despite the legislation, FGM is a deeply entrenched tradition that continues today. The Orchid Project explains that “Implementation and enforcement of the national law remain a challenge, due to lack of resources and difficulty accessing remote rural areas. Judges are reluctant to apply the sentences provided for in the law and sentences are regularly reduced or quashed on appeal.” 

Alternative Rites of Passage

Founded in 1952, Maendeleo ya Wanawake Organisation (MYWO) is a nonprofit organization in Kenya that aims to improve women’s economic, social and political status in Kenya. MYWO promotes alternative rites of passage (ARP), which respect indigenous cultures and the traditional initiation process but without the need for physical cutting of the genitalia.

MYWO first introduced ARP with the support of the Programme for Alternative Technology in Health (PATH) in 1996 in the Meru community in Kenya, encouraging 30 households to conduct alternative forms of ceremonies to celebrate a child’s passage into womanhood without the need for genital mutilation.

With the introduction of ARP, between 2009 and 2019, FGM prevalence rates declined by 24.2% to a prevalence of 56.6%. Widespread replacement of genital cutting with ARP will lead to prevalence rates dropping even further. Educating communities will aid in protecting the well-being of girls and women.

Over the past decade, the prevalence of female genital mutilation has fallen. By continuing efforts to end FGM in Kenya, organizations uphold the human rights of girls and women.

– Yv Maciel
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in Kenya
For centuries, women have experienced discrimination due to assumptions about physical weakness, emotional hysteria and even menstrual impurity. Yet, gender inequality remains common in the present-day through female genital mutilation (FGM). Archaeologists’ discovery of circumcised mummies in Egypt determined that people practiced FGM ever since the fifth century BC. While the exact origin remains unclear since some scholars propose that this practice merged with initiation rituals for women, it has spread to many communities. Kenya, located in East Africa, is a country that performs this procedure. Here are five facts about female genital mutilation in Kenya.

5 Facts About Female Genital Mutilation in Kenya

  1. Reasons for FGM: FGM treatments range from Type 1 to Type 4, but Type 1, which mainly involves clitoridectomy, is the most common female genital mutilation in Kenya. While this may seem hygienic and necessary, FGM induces injury to the clitoris, being the center of pleasure for women, for non-medical reasons. The removal of this sensitive genital organ eliminates any satisfaction that a woman could experience through sexual interactions. This is significant in justifying FGM in Kenya as many there see sex as a sin. In fact, four in 10 Kenyan Muslims believe the procedure is necessary for their religion. Despite the pain the Kenyan women undergo, their communities promote the mutilation of their bodies to uphold the standards that men set so that society will accept them. It perpetuates gender inequality through female ‘modesty,’ especially in the fact that “some parents still believe that their uncircumcised girls will not be [able to marry].” Men also degrade and shun women who do not undergo FGM, furthering female humiliation when they undergo the surgery.
  2. Women Undergoing FGM: Globally, around 200 million females have undergone a form of FGM. Meanwhile, 21% of women aged 15-49 and 3% of girls under 15 years old are victims of female genital mutilation in Kenya. This includes nearly 4 million women experiencing this illegal, human rights denying procedure. Traditional practitioners usually perform FGM, but in the Kisii community, health personnel is responsible for two-thirds of the surgeries. Additionally, 98% of the surgeries take part in the North-Eastern region where roughly 1% take part in the Western region. Kenya borders Somalia on the Eastern side where 36% of Somali women undergo FGM most prevalently. Even though Kenya is a developing country with an HDI of 0.509, girls in underfunded rural areas who obtained less education and are Muslim are more likely to suffer the effects of FGM.
  3. Mental Effects and Physical Complications of FGM: Women who undergo female genital mutilation in Kenya do not only suffer through the initial pain of being cut into without proper surgical equipment and medical relief. Instead, they often question themselves and their bodies for years, enduring lasting effects that are severely detrimental to their mental state. Children may struggle with behavioral disorders due to psychological stress, especially since teenage girls have barely matured at 15. Others usually tie girls up without consent before experiencing FGM, causing distrust of others and loss of confidence in themselves, increasing cases of anxiety and depression. Physically, women suffer from sexual dysfunction that may put a strain on their already complicated marriages. These girls are at higher risk of contracting HIV as the unsterilized equipment used may lead to infections. With the intense cutting, FGM will most likely cause serious health complications like chronic pain, infertility and even death.
  4. Kenya’s Attitude Towards FGM: Adolescent and older Kenyan civilians have a high opposition to this practice with nine in 10 believing that FGM should not occur. Ethnic groups that do not usually engage in this practice are more opposed to it. However, in the Maasai and Kisii communities, 78% and 84% of women still undergo the procedure respectively even though there are high criticism rates. Either way, female genital mutilation in Kenya remains unpopular with 92.5% of women and 88.8% of men promoting its disuse. Therefore, Kenya passed the Children Act in 2001 that protects children from abuse and sexual exploitation. Moreover, the 2011 Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act stipulated against crossing the border to perform FGM and highlighted the need to provide support for victims of this practice. Due to these legal measures, the prevalence of FGM dropped from five in 10 to one in 10 in the past three decades, having a yearly reduction rate of 4.3%.
  5. International Fight Against FGM: While domestic battles against FGM in Kenya have been successful, the United Nations Population Fund and UNICEF started the Joint Programme on FGM to abolish this procedure in 17 countries, Kenya included. The program partners with governments and fights to assure the protection of the sexual and reproductive health of women. It has succeeded in teaching 5.4 million people about the issue through education, sensitization and social movements and 10.6 million through radio and television. Moreover, in 2008, the World Health Organization (WHO) passed resolution WHA61.16, emphasizing the elimination of FGM by taking action in the health, women’s affairs and justice sectors.

Overall, female genital mutilation in Kenya has ruined countless lives over many centuries, especially those of young girls on the Eastern border. However, the country’s government strives to promote a prosperous country to counteract the violation of human rights that women have endured. With continued efforts, FGM should hopefully continue to reduce in Kenya.

– Sylvia Boguniecki
Photo: Flickr