Kenya is a diverse country with over forty ethnic groups. These groups are categorized within the Bantus, Nilotes and Cushites populations in Africa mainly. This clearly shows that the country experiences multi-cultural practices which may differ from one ethnic group to the other. In the midst of all these differences in the way of life, there has also been noted some similarities in how these communities live. It is also important to note Kenya as one of the countries in the Great Lakes region of East Africa and a gateway to Africa from the East through the Indian Ocean has some communities with cultural elements borrowed from Asia and the Middle East. The integration and interactions of people have brought about beautiful practices that uniquely define Kenya. Yet still there are practices that are harmful and have no place in the modern world. Some of these practices include early child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation. In many communities in Kenya, the later acts as preparation to the former and it is hard to draw a line between the two practices.
Sadly maternal mortality remains to be one of the leading causes of death for women in Kenya between the ages of 15-19 years. These are young adolescent girls. Many birth related complications have been recorded among communities that practice FGM and early child marriages. It is for this reason that if we want to end maternal mortality we need to get down to the root causes of all these issues and address them from the grass root community level where the action takes place.
The Kenya Demographic Health Survey, 2014 records that 2 out of 10 girls and women aged 15-49 years in Kenya have undergone FGM. According to the UNFPA, 38 communities out of the 43 in Kenya practice FGM. This is shocking for a country with strong legislation against abetting, procuring and committing the practice of FGM. The question we then ask is “Are communities still practicing FGM in secrecy despite it being illegal in Kenya?”
FGM is a social norm to many of the communities that practice it in Kenya. What are some of the reasons as to why communities in Kenya still hold strong to this harmful practice? Moisalel* is a Maasai woman, she has undergone FGM herself. Moisalel explains to me that for any woman to be accepted within the social set up and group of women your age, you must undergo FGM. She narrates to me that for a woman who hasn’t undergone FGM, she will be viewed as an outcast and other women will never want to associate with her. No one will eat food prepared by her. No visitor will ever step into her homestead.
For me to fully understand why communities still practice FGM in Kenya. I spoke to Chebii* a young girl from the Pokot community in Kenya. Chebii told me that she is under a lot of pressure from her mother to undergo FGM. “She says, I will not find a husband or my dowry will be low if I do not take the cut.” What is stopping you? I asked Chebii with a lot of curiosity. Chebii explained to me of how she has been taught at school that FGM is not good for women’s reproductive health. At this point she starts to cry, she tells me the ordeal of her friend, Chepkemoi* who died. “She bled to death, just after her FGM ceremony was done.” What did the community say about Chepkemoi’s case? I asked Chebii after some time, just to break the silence when I noticed she was now wiping her tears. “They say its bad luck because her mother who is married from another community that does not practice FGM. Chepkemoi’s mother was not cut.”
Kenyan anti FGM activists must work closely with stakeholders within the community and the law enforcers to ensure no more lives are lost. In these communities, stories are told of women who died while giving birth. Yet no one see’s the connection to FGM. Hospitals show records of women with fistula. Yet no one see’s the connection to FGM. There is need to structure messages for the community that will demystify all myths around FGM. Communities in Kenya need to understand that FGM is against the human rights for young girls and women. Tools should be developed to get these messages deep into the community fiber. We should engage end FGM champions who are respected community members those who are capable to impact social change within these communities. Young people should be vibrant and use necessary tools to call upon policy makers to fully see the anti FGM law in Kenya is implemented and grow the end FGM movement not just in Kenya but also in Africa.
*names of the women have been changed for the purposes of privacy and confidentiality.
Article by Meshack Ian Acholla | Twitter @Acholla_