Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a human rights violation, a form of torture and an extreme form of violence and discrimination against girls and women – there is no subtle way to describe it!
Sadly, according to World Health Organization (WHO), more than 200 million girls and women globally have undergone FGM. Worse still, if current trends continue, 15 million girls (between ages 15-19) are at risk of undergoing FGM by 2030. In my region of Kenya, there are numerous documented cases of girls dying every year due to complications arising from FGM, but substantial data is difficult to come by.
Contrary to popular belief that FGM is a ‘cultural issue’, in reality, the practice has dire socio-economic consequences and impacts on the health, education, livelihoods and general well-being of girls and women. In the course of my activism and journalism in Kenya, I have come face-to-face with the impact of FGM on girls and women among various communities that perpetuate the practice.
FGM is believed by some to ‘benefit’ girls and women by ensuring chastity and cleanliness as well as acting as a rite of passage into womanhood. In reality, it is a perpetuation of misogyny and a violent expression of the patriarchy and sexism that lead to the psychological and physical abuse of women.
Without exception, young girls and women carry the economic burden of FGM since the practice denies those affected an opportunity to access education. Lack of education, of course, then limits chances of being economically productive through formal employment. Moreover, lack of education limits the nature of livelihood activities individuals can partake in.
Another issue underpinning the continuation of FGM is the persistent equation of girls and women with commodities. For instance, among the Rendile, Pokot and Maasai communities in Kenya, it is common practice to trade off girls as dowry as way of replacing livestock lost during drought or through rustling. As a result, a girl’s education and future is sacrificed at the expense of her father’s quest for wealth.
By the same token, it is well known that circumcisers, often older ladies, have continued the practice not because of their ‘strong’ belief in the practice but purely as a means of making a living out of innocent girls. For instance, last year a renowned but reformed ‘cutter’ confessed in an interview with me that she had made a great deal of money out of her business, which she’d practiced for 30 years. She boasted of having built a permanent house – one of the best in the village – with the money she’d made. Unfortunately, her wealth had been accumulated through cutting over 5000 girls, most of whom eventually would have dropped out of school and been married off at a young age.
The practice of FGM even impacts social institutions in practicing communities. Local level authorities charged with the responsibility of arresting FGM perpetrators are routinely bribed. One such revelation came from a Chief I spoke to, who confessed to having made “a few coins” out of the practice. Indeed, it emerged that it is common practice for cutters, parents and community elders to bribe chiefs and police to shield them, especially during the cutting ceremonies.
It has also been widely documented that many perpetrators walk out of cells scot-free for lack of sufficient evidence to support prosecution. In some instances I’ve heard about, politicians have been known to interfere with criminal cases by bribing officials who in turn release the perpetrators by instigating a low cash bail – after which most cases simply fade away.
Sounds like a scheme, right? But it remains the reality for too many women and girls in Kenya and around the world. Women and girls continue to pay the price of FGM. And the price remains way too high.
Girls’ Globe is publishing opinions and ideas on tackling gender-based violence from our global network of bloggers and organizations during each of the 16 Days of Activism. We’re also crowdfunding to be able to continue to raise the voices of girls and young women in 2018 – voices like Lorna’s. Donate today and help us to continue building a safer, more equal world.