Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a vice that has affected Kenya for decades. Despite several interventions by the government and NGOs, FGM continues to persist in certain communities in the country. National statistics indicate that the FGM prevalence rate stands at 27%.
Kenya officially banned FGM by putting into law the Anti-FGM law 2011 that seeks to arrest those involved in the cut and those who don’t report these ceremonies as well. The law gives the state mandate to arrest offenders they find guilty. Members of the audience stated that they were aware of the law but they needed more information and sensitization so as not to go against the law.
Following our Gender Forum in Nairobi, in February 2015, the Heinrich Boell Foundation was challenged to take this pertinent discussion to communities most affected and most importantly to communities in marginalized areas i.e. “to go beyond the tarmac”. So in September 2015, the gender forum travelled to Lodokejek Ward, Samburu County. In partnership with Centre for Advocacy Gender Equity and (CAGE), Samburu, HBF held its first gender forum in Samburu at Sora Adoru Primary School. The location of the forum was over 40kms from Maralal (the county headquarters), truly beyond the tarmac.
The forum took a conversational tone, as we sought to first know from the community what they felt about FGM, what they knew, and how best they felt this vice could be stopped. In attendance were council of elders, women and local leaders.
Jeff Lekupe, Inform Action and a member of the community brought out the fact that FGM was harmful to the girls and violated their human rights. He was able to demonstrate to the men that indeed having a celebratory ceremony excluding the cut was still a positive step towards reducing cases of FGM and would still maintain the Samburu culture.
Magdaline Lelelit, Ward women’s chairperson, explained that indeed there were severe medical effects of FGM. She stated that women faced severe complications during childbirth and some even died. She explained that given the few hospitals in the area, it would be wise to stop cutting girls so that there are reduced maternal related deaths. This was further explained by Veronica Lekopole, CAGE who stated that the health risks of circumcised mothers far outweighed the importance to retain such a harmful culture.
A member of the council of elders indicated that indeed the culture of the Samburu was key to their identity but that changing certain aspects of the culture did not mean killing the culture completely. He gave the example of how formal education for them was a significant shift in their culture but indeed in the end it was accepted due to its benefits. He urged those in the room to continue finding ways to reduce the cut whilst still retaining the Samburu Culture.
The women in the audience were at first hesitant to discuss FGM in the presence of men, however, as the discussion went on, it emerged that there was a willingness to abolish the cut given the severe effects on the girls. The women stated that the ceremony accompanying the cut was vital to the Samburu culture and that they were willing to over time accept the ceremony and reject the cut.
Overall the forum was more than just a sensitization exercise, but also a chance for the community to discuss FGM in a manner that was respectful of their culture and cognizant they are the only ones who can drive change regarding this practice. Members of the audience further stated that indeed no one had ever approached them such a respectful way that sort to understand their culture and at the same time seek solutions from them on how to deal with FGM. This is in line with one of the pillars of HBF which is Dialogue.