Kenya, together with the rest of the world marked the World International Day of Zero Tolerance on Female Genital Mutilation on Monday.
Although female genital mutilation (FGM) has been outlawed in Kenya since 2001, a majority of girls of semi-nomadic tribes like the Maasai and Samburu still undergo this painful and damaging ritual.
According to the Kenya Demographic Household Survey of 2014, some 78 percent of Maasai women and 86 percent of Samburu women between the ages of 15 and 49, have been mutilated, while for Kenya’s general population the figure for FGM currently stands at 21 percent.
The Secretary General of UN Antonio Guterres while observing the day stated that sustainable development needs full human rights for all women and girls. He cited the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which he said promises an end to FGM by 2030.
This year’s theme was Building a solid and interactive bridge between Africa and the world to accelerate ending of FGM by 2030.
Globally, it is estimated that at least 200 million girls and women have undergone some form of FGM. Girls under the age of 14 represent 44 million of those who have been cut, with the highest prevalence of FGM among this age are in Gambia at 56 per cent, Mauritania 54 per cent and Indonesia where around half of girls aged 11 and younger have undergone the practice.
Countries with the highest prevalence among girls and women aged 15 to 49 are Somalia at 98 percent, Guinea 97 percent and Djibouti 93 percent.
While there has been an overall decline in the prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) across countries, this progress is likely to be offset by rapid population growth in countries where FGM occurs, unless efforts to eliminate the practice are renewed in light of recent research, and urgently stepped up.
A 2016 report of the UN Secretary-General showed that the single largest factor influencing the continuation of female genital mutilation to be the desire for social acceptance and avoidance of social stigma. The social norms, customs and values that condone FGM are multi-faceted, vary across countries and even between communities, and can change over time. This presents a powerful and complex challenge for all those engaged in the effort to end FGM.
The importance of education to address negative social norms has been demonstrated in Egypt, where the reduction in the risk of girls undergoing FGM has been linked both to the educational attainment of their mothers, as well as of other women in their communities.
According the report, collection and analysis of data is crucial to better tailor our interventions in light of the specific factors associated with the practice globally. Further research is needed in areas outside Africa, as FGM is also prevalent in Latin America, South-East Asia and areas of the Middle East, as well as now being present in the United States and United Kingdom. Much greater attention needs to be paid to the risks associated with migration and the greater movement between borders. Women and girls are still extremely vulnerable, even in countries which are not traditionally associated with the practice of FGM, if families on the move maintain the practice.
Increasing numbers of countries have extraterritorial legislation for their citizens practicing female genital mutilations in other jurisdictions, and hold those who practice to account. In Gambia, the adoption of legislation has created an enabling environment for the Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children to support those who have carried out FGM to acquire skills to find alternative livelihoods. It has also empowered women to take an active role in protecting other women and girls and increased community awareness of FGM’s harmful impacts.
FGM is inextricably linked with other forms of gender inequality, such as violence against women and girls, and other harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriages.
The report further noted that in order to accelerate progress towards ending FGM, UN is determined to work with governments, local administrations and civil society partners to address the root causes that perpetuate unequal power relations between women and men, and also with sister agencies, such as UNICEF and UNFPA, on their long-standing campaigns.
FGM is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15. The elimination of FGM has been called for by numerous inter-governmental organizations, including the African Union, the European Union and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, as well as in three resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly.