The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in the countries where the practice is concentrated. Furthermore, there are an estimated 3 million girls at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation every year. The majority of girls are cut before they turn 15 years old. The practice documented in 30 countries, mainly in Africa, as well as in the Middle East, Asia and some parts of South America.
The increasing figures and the prevalence of FGM across Africa is worrying. This has seen the rise in activism and advocacy campaigns against the practice in the continent. In this series we’ll focus on anti-FGM activists from Kenya, Eritrea and Nigeria. They will share with us their stories, the prevalence of FGM in their countries and what they are doing to end the practice.
We begin this #FightingtheCut series with Lorna Andisi, a freelance writer, blogger, feminist, and human rights defender. She is a member of The African Women’s Development and Communication a Network (FEMNET). She is also a contributor to other sites such as; Youth For Change UK, Girls Globe and EndFGM European Network blog sites. Additionally she is a member of the Africa UNiTE Kenya Chapter- a National Anti-GBV Consortium.
Lorna Andisi runs a blog, https://andisilorna.wordpress.com/ which covers women and girls health, Sexual reproductive Health Rights, Gender Based Violence, with keen focus on FGM.
Here’s our conversation:
With the different cultures in your Kenya where can you place the FGM practice? Culturally contextualize it.
LA “Female Genital Mutilation is one is the most rampant traditional practices still practiced in Kenya. Bidding and child marriage are some of the other cultures that go hand in hand with FGM especially among the pastoralist communities-(Samburu, Maasai,Rendille, Borana, pokot etc). The reasons for perpetuation of this practice vary from community to community, however common reasons remain for marriageability, fidelity, chastity, cleanliness and also as a rite of passage to womanhood.”
For how long has it been practiced? And to what extent? Is it concentrated in a few communities or is it widespread across the country?
LA “FGM is a deeply entrenched culture and socially embedded practice that has been existing for over 2000 years in Africa. In Kenya, the practice of FGM was heightened during the MauMau uprising against the British rule. It was majorly practiced to ensure fidelity among women whose husbands went out for months and even years for war. Currently, 37 out of 42 communities still perpetuate the practice with prevalence rates varying from community to community. The Kenya Demographic Health Survey (2014) indicates country prevalence rate at 21% with girls between ages 15-19 having undergone circumcisions and with significant variations at sub county level. FGM is nearly universal in four communities namely: Somali 99%, Samburu 86%, Kisii 84%, and Maasai 78%. However FGM is less predominant in other communities such as the Embu 31%, Meru 31%, Kalenjin 28%, Taita Taveta 22%, Kikuyu 15%, Kamba 11%, Turkana2% Mijikenda2%.”
Is there any legislation outlawing the practice? is it in force?
LA “The active public discussion on the eradication of FGM in Kenya has been ongoing since the late 1990s. In 1999, the Ministry of Health launched a ‘National Action Plan’ for elimination of female circumcision particularizing the governments’ commitment to ending the practice. Shortly after, the president issued a decree banning FGM and prohibiting government hospitals from performing FGM (FIDA 2000) This was followed by the Children’s Act passed in 2001, coming into force in 2002. The first law in the fight to eradicate the practice. The Act made FGM illegal for girls under eighteen and imposed twelve months imprisonment and/or fine up to KES 50, 000 for breach of the law”
“Again in 2011, another law the “prohibition of FGM Act 2001” came into force in Oct 2011. The act not only criminalized FGM for underage girls but for everyone in a bid to tackle social pressure, also banned the stigmatization of women who had undergone FGM. The 2011 act extended the powers of the previous Legislation providing for the prosecution on those who perform FGM and anyone who aids such a person or who knowingly fails to report knowledge of such acts or pending acts in Kenya and abroad. The Act made the punishment more severe than the 2001 Act making it 3 to 20 years imprisonment or life imprisonment for causing death by performing FGM and a fine of KES 200, 000.”
“In addition to the national laws. Kenya is a signatory to several other human rights conventions such as the Maputo Protocol, The UN Human Rights declaration- denouncing FGM and requiring governments to have positive obligations towards victims.”
“Yes the law is partly in force but there are still hitches, for instance; most law enforcement officers are untrained on the issues surrounding the practice and prohibition e.g preservation of evidence which is a monarch consideration during prosecution. Some also consider it as an interference with private and/or family as well as community, life and are reluctant to intervene.”
What prompted you to become an Anti-FGM activist?
LA “My community (Luhya) does not practice Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). I came to hear about FGM much later in life, when I was out of college; and even when I heard about it, I still did not pay much attention. Then one day, two years ago I happened to be among the journalists that were called on to a workshop in Nairobi by the Guardian Media UK team. The team was launching an extensive media campaign to create awareness about FGM and use media to end FGM. They too had identified a number of activists across FGM practicing communities in Kenya whom they also trained on use of social and mainstream media to amplify their work. During the themed #EndFGMAcademy, I interacted with a number of activists some of whom were FGM survivors. They openly shared their stories and experiences. Some stories were quite disheartening! I also watched videos of how FGM is procured and oh no!- they were quite horrific! I wondered how many people out there were as naive and unaware of the barbaric practice-as I was. I decided I must do something. I must be part of this issue even if it does not directly affect me. I must work with these great people! Instantaneously, (last day of the academy) I created my blog primarily to create awareness on the issue and to amplify the good work done by the various activists working to end the practice. In fact, debut blog was born from the academy!”
What are some of the milestones you and other activists have achieved in Fighting FGM?
LA “I joined the movement to end FGM two years ago. From my personal judgment and observation, activists have created so much awareness about the practice thereby galvanizing the various stakeholders such government bodies -Ministry of health, gender and education, the police department, the public prosecution docket to work together in curbing the practice. As a result, studies on FGM have been incorporated into the school curriculum so that young people learn about the effects of FGM at early stages in life.
The creation of a specific board ‘The Anti-FGM board to deal with FGM is a great move towards guiding the fight against the practice
Early this year during the international women’s day there was a launch on a National GBV response hotline number 1195 to facilitate reportage of GBV cases including FGM.In addition the Ministry of Gender and social protection last year launched a toll free child protection line 116 in a bid to voice out sexual gender based violence emergency and non emergency cases among children.
Local activists have also championed for domestication of The Anti-FGM law to suit their county context. Kajiado County has done it to tackle the reasons associated with the persistence of the practice.
Activists have lobbied for creation of gender desks at police stations to tackle issues of Gender Based Violence against children and women. Activists are also lobbying for tougher penalties for perpetrators of the cut because the current punishment is deemed light.”
What challenges do you face in fighting FGM and what recommendations have you to better fight in order to achieve more?
LA “Some of the challenges include the changing trends among the practicing communities. For example in certain communities FGM is now performed on infants and no longer on teens. It’s hard to detect such cases. In other communities the practice is now carried out under high secrecy. The medical aspect of FGM is dragging the fight to eliminate the practice.”
“I would recommend that whatever strategies that activists are employing to tackle the practice should place the community at the center and have to be community owned. FGM is a social and cultural problem but with immense economic effects.”
Lorna continues to do her part in fighting the cut. She was recently involved in the #16DaysOfActivism championing for women and girl rights as well as advocacy to ending sexual and gender based violence against women and children. Read more about that here: https://andisilorna.wordpress.com/2017/12/14/reflecting-upon-this-years-16daysofactivism/
In our next article on #FightingTheCut we’ll speak to Fatma Naib from Eritrea then Nnamdi Eseme from Nigeria.