Female Genital Mutilation in UgandaFemale genital mutilation (FGM) is an invasive violation that impacts the short- and long-term health, safety and well-being of girls and women. Internationally recognized for its harm, much work goes into preventing female genital mutilation. Nonetheless, it remains a modern issue. As of 2016, UNICEF reported that one in three girls between the ages of 15 and 19 years old has been subjected to FGM. In the past couple of decades, East Africa has recorded the largest decrease in the use of FGM. Female genital mutilation in girls between the ages of 0-14 has decreased from 71.4% in 1995 to 8.0% in 2016. In 2010, Uganda created the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act. This played a significant role in the reduction of female genital mutilation in Uganda. However, cultural norms, traditions and beliefs continue to create challenges in completely eliminating FGM.

Activist Grandmothers

Lonah Cheptilak, one of the Trail Blazers Foundation’s activist grandmothers, is a “Role Model Mother,” advocating for women and girls in the Amudat District of Uganda. Cheptilak mentors 20 adolescent girls, visiting them at school, tracking their progress and providing counseling. Cheptilak is currently lobbying the district to set up a rescue center in Loroo Sub-County due to the prevalence of FGM and child marriages in the area. She is also fighting for schools to reopen to provide protection for young girls during COVID-19. Cheptilak states, “FGM in Amudat is a bigger problem than COVID-19. Students used to find refuge at school. Now some parents are using the closure as an advantage to cut their daughters in gardens.”

Involving Cultural Leaders

In Uganda, if a woman does not undergo FGM, she faces not only public ridicule but will be in danger of losing her bride price. This is a significant deterrent in choosing to remain uncut, even though legislation makes the practice punishable by law. Research shows that young girls have utilized COVID-19 lockdowns to cut themselves in private and receive medical care afterward. Because of the cultural norm that pressures girls as young as 11 to conduct the atrocity on themselves, it is vital that governments and organizations engage leaders in the community to transform the system from the inside out.

Dorcas Chelain, the vice chairperson of the Amudat District, advises social workers and activists by sharing her cultural knowledge. For instance, Chelain understands that simply speaking to the women in Amudat has proven ineffective. While they may agree that FGM is harmful and must end, the women lack the power to change the system. In order to survive, they defer to the male influence and cultural norms that dictate their reality.

Girls Resist FGM

Innovative problem-solving techniques are required to involve communities in the elimination of harmful traditions. In the conservative Pokot community in the Amudat District of Uganda, the Straight Talk Foundation has been actively engaging with the people and persevering through the difficult process of convincing girls to defy FGM in Uganda. Through this work, 20 girls refrained from undergoing the FGM procedure. Empowered by the support of their parents and the church, they were able to resist FGM and get married despite being uncut.

The women have become an example of possible alternatives for communities that base financial, moral and marriageable worth on FGM. The government of Uganda strategized to include these 20 couples as ambassadors representing the possibility of a new way of life. For their brave resistance, each woman was rewarded with 20 roofing sheets which would help in the construction of a permanent home.

It is clear that to truly end female genital mutilation in Uganda, such a deeply ingrained cultural practice, government, organizations, families and communities must be involved to create lasting change.

– Hannah Brock
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