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February 20, 2019

The politics of genital mutilation

Have you ever wondered why male circumcision is not referred to as male genital mutilation while female circumcision is referred to as female genital mutilation yet both these practices are fairly similar? Both remove healthy tissue from genital organs. Both often lack consent of the children. Male and female circumcision is usually done at the parents’ and community’s behest. Both are justified by religion and custom and both are irreversible in nature and the exercise is extremely painful and can cause harm. Female genital cutting is almost universally practiced by many communities today.

There are various reasons for male circumcisions. They range from preventing STDs, epilepsy, spinal paralysis, bed-wetting, eye problems, deafness, dumbness, penile cancer, cervical cancer, and HIV.  Although many of these facts have been disproved and there are no medical inclinations to deem it necessary are threats to one’s life if not performed. Last week more than five hundred dejected and enraged women from the Masai community stormed Sajiloni Shopping Center in Kajiado Central protesting the ban of FGM and advocating for female genital modification asserting that female genital cutting was their rite of passage. To these women, being circumcised has social, psychological, economical and health benefits. For them marriage and reproduction are the only guarantee for a woman to gain economic security and social status.

Without undergoing FGM a woman is unmarriageable, unwanted and ostracised. The mental and psychological torture they endure for being labelled as outcasts in their community is severe. The late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, in his book, Facing Mt. Kenya in trying to explain this quandary facing this community stated,“No proper Gikuyu would dream of marrying a girl who has not been circumcised, and vice versa. It is a taboo for a Gikuyu man or woman to have sexual relations with someone who has not undergone this operation”. Socially, FGM serves as a means to discourage premarital sex and reducing sexual desire of a girl thereby preserving her virginity which is the base for marriageability and family honour. Health wise, FGM (which removes the prepuce and not the clitoris) has been said to prevent unpleasant odours which result from foul secretions beneath the prepuce, reduces the incidence of urinary tract infections and reduces the incidence of infections of the reproductive system.

Economically, female cutting in the communities where it is practiced is a prerequisite for payment of the bride price to the parents of the girl. Lack of it may be a burden on her parents as no male member of the community will dare to marry her. Marriage also ensures a woman with old age pension or security as well as respect in the society. Under Article 44 of The Constitution every person has the right to participate in the cultural life, of the person’s choice and to enjoy the person’s culture. Article 45 further recognises the family as the natural and fundamental unit of society and the necessary basis of social order.   The most extreme form of FGM is infibulation. This entails the removal of the clitoris, labia minor and most, if not all, of the labia majoria.

What was once the outer lips of the genitals are then pinned together and/or held in place by some form of string, leaving a small opening, roughly the size of the tip of a pencil, at the vaginal opening to allow urine and blood from menstruation to pass. This procedure is inhuman, cruel, degrading and an unspeakable act of violence prohibited by Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It violates ones right to dignity (Article 28) and freedom and security of the person and the freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 29). What is worse is some of these procedures are performed on non-consenting young girls with very crude weapons.

This violates their right to bodily autonomy, integrity and the operation infringes on their sexual and reproductive health rights as guaranteed under Article 43.It hinders their right to Education (Article 43) as the Physical healing may take months or years if other medical complications arise. Undoubtedly FGM may pose serious physical and psychological health problems to women who have been cut and in extreme cases it causes death. The Children Act at Section 14 protects children from female circumcision, early marriage or other cultural rites, customs or traditional practices that are likely to negatively affect the child’s life, health, social welfare, dignity or physical or psychological development. Similarly, The FGM Act of 2011 at Section 19 makes it an offence to carry out, procure, and aid and abet FGM. Failure to report an occurrence or an intended occurrence is also a crime. The only exception under the Act is where an approved person carries out a surgical operation which is necessary for a person’s physical or mental health. In determining whether or not any surgical procedure is performed on any person for the benefit of that person’s physical or mental health, a person’s culture, religion or other custom or practice shall be of no effect. Parents, teachers, guardian, you and I should all join hands and fight FGM.It’s your duty under Article 3 and 20 of the Constitution.

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