Ending FGM in KenyaBy Sarah Ooko
At the age of 11, Jacinta was forced to undergo Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) by her parents. She was later married off to an older man who offered a dowry, in the form of goats, to her father. This made her father happy as the goats increased his wealth. Jacinta, however, had no choice in the matter. Her father, with the approval of community elders, went ahead and subjected her to the cut without consulting her.
As a result of being married at such a young age, Jacinta went through a very difficult pregnancy and experienced massive tears and bleeding during delivery. “I was in so much pain and could not get out of my bed for over two months. I have had to deal with reproductive health challenges since then, which has not been easy,” states the now 50-year-old Jacinta. She is among the many women that are living with life-long consequences of FGM and child marriage, which are among the retrogressive cultural practices that are still rife in some parts of Kenya.
The male community elders, who are the custodians of these cultural practices, have for a long time perpetuated these acts. But the tides are slowly changing. Recently, male elders from the Pokot and Samburu communities, Kenya's FGM and child marriage hotspots, made a declaration to put an end to both practices. According to UNICEF statistics, the prevalence rates of FGM in these communities are 94 percent and 95 percent respectively.
The declaration made by the Samburu elders, was presided over by the President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, in March 2021. It followed an earlier declaration made in February 2021 by Pokot elders from both Kenya and Uganda, which was presided over by senior government officials from both countries.
“The two countries border each other. So, we used to have many cases of families choosing to evade the stringent laws in Kenya by ferrying their children to Uganda to undergo FGM in preparation for early marriage,” notes George Ndung'u, the Gender and Development Expert for World Vision in Kenya.
World Vision contributed immensely to the realisation of these historic declarations through community dialogue initiatives and sensitisation forums that have changed the mind-sets of elders and empowered them to become child rights champions.
In the local contexts, men have been socialised to view circumcised women as beautiful and worthy for marriage, compared to those that have not undergone the cut. As such, the elders’ declaration will contribute immensely to the end of FGM and child marriage in Kenya.
Having experienced the adverse health effects and psychological torture linked to these retrogressive cultural practices, Jacinta notes that the elders’ declaration gives hope for a brighter future for women and girls. “Girls in affected communities now have an opportunity to go to school and pursue their dreams,” she says.