By Barbara Atieno

Female circumcision, a practice in most quarters is referred as female genital mutilation (FGM) or female genital cutting has been a coming-of-age ritual among the Maasai tribe of Kenya for generations.

Today, FGM is a reproductive health and human rights concern, with devastating impact on the lives of girls and women among the community.

In Africa, Kenya, Sudan, Nigeria, and Senegal are some of the countries where these cultural practices are rampant. The practice is encouraged depending on communities’ beliefs and countries national policies as well.

This therefore means that some communities practice FGM as a rite of passage while others don’t. Yet there are those who emulate it from other communities as conditional requirements like in marriage.

For instance, in Kenya among the Maasai, Samburu, Kisii communities FGM is a cultural ritual rite for girls to go through and be recognized as adults. But this is done regardless of their age which promotes early child marriages.

In North Eastern Kenya, the Somali community has the highest prevalence of FGM. A shocking 94 per cent perform this violation as many believe it is religious requirement.  Sheikh Hussein Mahad, a local religious leader, denounces this belief and insists that FGM actually goes against Muslim faith.

“When you critically look into Muslim religion, circumcision is meant for the male child,” Mahad confirmed. Islam is religion of mercy but FGM is merciless to the girl child and therefore, neglects our belief. It is a harmful and unnecessary evil.” He emphasized.

So far, legal and policy reforms, national efforts and community engagement are helping to end this harmful practice. Initially only affected countries were involved in fighting this heinous practice but now it has become international community concern.

Again Kenyan Constitution2010, Article 44 (3) stipulates that, “A person shall not compel another person to perform, observe or undergo any cultural practice or rite.”

Because of these concerns, women are gathering for a meeting taking place on 3-6 June 2019 in Vancouver, Canada, the world’s largest conference on gender equality and the health, rights, and wellbeing of girls and women in the 21st century.

This conference serves as a catalyst for advocates working to achieve a more gender equal world. More than 6,000 world leaders, influencers, advocates, academics, activists, and journalists are among the delegates.  It is believed resolutions made at Vancouver, will accelerate progress for girls and women worldwide.

Apart from eradication of FGM, other themes of discussions include; Delivering and Demonstrating Impact on Sexual and Reproductive Health Education for the modern girl, Strengthening Measurement for Evidence based Policy in Community Maternal Health and issues related to Family Planning Methods.

According to Jacinta Muteshi, Population Council, the event is organized by Tostan, UNFPA, and UNICEF on a theme dubbed “Girls Not Brides”. She said the conference is set to present new knowledge, promote world-class solutions, and engage a broad spectrum of voices.

Tostan is a programme within the bigger UNFPA and UNICEF that empowers African communities to bring about sustainable development and positive social transformation based on respect for human rights through holistic, participatory and non-formal education, ensuring that every person is able to live a life of dignity.

Muteshi adds the conference focuses on several issues from health, nutrition, education, economic and political empowerment to human rights, good governance, and girls’ and women’s agency and equality.

“This session shares strategies from the social norm approach to accelerating FGM abandonment in four African countries: Kenya, Sudan, Nigeria, and Senegal,” Muteshi affirmed.

Among the Maasai community, Douglas Meritei, has been engaging his tribe members for more than a decade now to abandon the practice. Because of his persuasion, FGM is becoming less common.

Meritei has saved over 100 girls from the practice and is yet to rescue more despite of very less people supporting his idea.

“Back in school, I used to see boys only in the class and no girls due to the practice. So, thought of something to do to change situation,” said Meritei.

“Whenever there was a gathering in the village, I talked to my people to stop the practice because of its dangers to the girls,” revealed Douglass.

Joseph Nashipei, the area Chief for Kimina location also helped in stopping FGM by arresting people who are caught carrying out such practices. Lillian Nashipei who happens to be a victim of the practice has also become anti-FGM crusader.

“Area Chief and I visited different homes randomly and carried out manual tests on the girls. On arrival, all girls who walked well that is okay but those who limbed meant were circumcised hence parents arrested on the spot,” Nashipei, Anti-FGM Campaigner explained.

Nashipei regrets that FGM is severely painful with psychological consequences. For example, genital tissue swelling, urination problems, hemorrhage, HIV, and even impaired wound healing.

“HIV is easily spread among the girls because circumcisers never sterilize their equipment before using it on another client,” she emphasized.

Kuria community also practiced FGM where people hold celebrations publicly for the circumcised girls. However, Florence Gachanja, UNFPA Kenya Program Analyst on Gender in Kuria said efforts are being made to fight the practice.

Unfortunately among the communities practicing FGM, many women are serving jail terms because of carrying out the practice on girls.