BWIRE: Men involvement in campaign FGM vital

    By Victor Bwire

    Efforts against some traditional harmful practices in Kenya including female genital mutilation (FGM) require not only the political will and legislation, but changing social norms and mindsets, that require the involvement of both women and men.

    While partners have devised innovative methods such as education, community dialogues, engaging the youth, religious and traditional institutions, including other measures such as promotion of girls’ education as a protective measure, they largely remain women led and focused.

    Men are very absent from these interventions, which make the issue appear to be a women or girl issue, but the reality is that men are very active and present in the perpetuation of such gross human rights violations for women and girls. It’s men in the communities that practice such harmful practices who want women or girls who have undergone the cut, who are willing to pay high dowry for such girls and mostly, it’s men who meet the costs of the practices, with women only being the implementers.

    It is regrettable that it’s well documented how these harmful practices have stood in the way of the development of children especially girls into meaningful adults as they negatively affect the socio-cultural and economic growth of those affected their eradication is still a low-key priority to many including the media. Media has the potential to influence the national discourse on the issue, sway public opinion and assist in community mobilization towards change of behavior.

    Within our communities, FGM is often rationalized as a rite of passage into womanhood and viewed as a necessary step in raising a girl “properly” so as to protect her and ensure that she fulfils societal expectations. Women and girls who have not been cut are often denied basic community functions including the opportunity to participate and engage in community affairs because they are deemed to be children and accused of being the bearers of misfortune on their families and communities.

    As we mark the 2021 the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation on, February 6th, we must relook at ways of bringing men into the conversation to amplify and direct the efforts on the elimination of this practice. And this must be escalated quickly, for the many gains made in the anti FGM and other traditional harmful practices including early marriages, early pregnancies and others have been greatly eroded by the COVID-19 outbreak.

    That people had to stay at home and with restricted movement and under the darkness of the curfews, many people took advantage and scaled up the outdated practice.

    Tonny Mwebia of the Men and FGM notes that efforts must be escalated to enhance the involvement of men in the at FGM campaign. Men are equally suffering from the adverse effects FGM including the loss of intimate love making, economic costs of medical costs where complications arise from the exercise. Much more achievement in the war against FGM is possible if men are sensitized and educated on the need to abandon these harmful practices that are a health and economic risk to their daughters, and when even culturally, men were expected to provide protection for their families.

    Award winning journalist and Gender Trainer at the Voice for Women and Girls Rights Project at the Journalists for Human Rights recently noted that there is nothing meaningful associated with such practices such as FGM, which are a gross violation of the rights of girls and a gross form of sexual violence against girls, which any person should be against. It’s such practices that perpetuate the violation of the rights of girls, thus frustrate any efforts towards gender equality, and frustrates affirmative actions.

    “I remember, it was my dad who helped by taking me away from my community to the Western parts of Kenya, and that’s how I missed going through this violence against my rights. Media must help in changing the narrative on the fight against such degrading practices by infusing into the discussion on the need for men to get actively involved in the eradication,” Ms Kaberia notes.

    Equality Now, an international human rights organization currently involved in the protection of women and girls through combing grassroots activism and social change, notes that the media is critical in changing how we can approach the eradication of FGM because the media has the potential to influence national discourse on the issue, sway public opinion and assist in community mobilization towards change of behavior.

    Between August and October 2019, Equality Now conducted a needs assessment to establish the knowledge gaps amongst journalists reporting on FGM; which established that journalists required skills and reference guides on reporting on the matter. Access to current and topical information including gender desegregated data on the prevalence and effects of FGM on girls was missing. There is a need for tool or online apps to assist journalists to quickly gather data on the same and capacity building interventions as we strive to enhance media changing of the narrative on FGM.

    In Kenya, one in five women and girls between the ages of 15 to 49 have undergone FGM according to the Kenya Demographic Health Survey (2014). Out of these, 87% had a cut and their flesh was remove while nine percent reported that their genital area had been sewn closed after the cut. An additional two percent reported that they had been cut but no flesh was removed. Behind each of these numbers is a human face and everyone, including the media, must scale up efforts to end FGM.

    FGM is a human rights violation of girls that uses the sexual organ to inflict pain and not only bodily harm but mental torture to the victims and survivors. The Constitution outlaws’ traditional harmful cultural practices, including female genital mutilation, child marriages and intentional spreading of HIV.

    Its not a cultural issue anymore, and those involved must be charged under relevant provisions, and not through traditional “courts” or any channel outside the established formal access to justice system. Those working on interventions to eradicate it must involve men and bring them to table and in sensitization forums so that they become active participants in stopping this violation of human rights.

    The Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act, 2011 criminalizes the practice and provides heavy sanctions in Kenya while at the same time provides new opportunities for the total elimination of female genital mutilation. The Act “prohibits the practice of female genital mutilation, to safeguard against violation of a person’s mental or physical integrity through the practice of female genital mutilation and for connected purposes….The Government shall take necessary steps within its available resources to protect women and girls from female genital mutilation;”.

    Other sections of the Act provide that any person who uses derogatory or abusive language that is intended to ridicule, embarrass or otherwise harm a woman for having not undergone female genital mutilation, or a man for marrying or otherwise supporting a woman who has not undergone female genital mutilation, commits an offence and shall be liable, upon conviction, to imprisonment for a term not less than six months, or to a fine of not less than Ksh.50,000, or both”.

    The Children Act 2001 provides that: “No person shall subject a child to female circumcision, early marriage or other cultural rites, customs or traditional practices that are likely to negatively affect the child’s life, health, social welfare, dignity or physical or psychological development.”

    Equality Now advises that “the media must continue holding state actors to account on their responsibility to end FGM, expose the impunity that allows this violation to thrive while linking up survivors to legal referral pathways through which they can access justice”.