Politicians' silence hurts war on FGM

A knife used for female genital mutilation. /FILE
A knife used for female genital mutilation. /FILE

Although female genital mutilation is widely condemned in Kajiado and Narok counties by state agents and human rights activists, politicians have never come out to clearly state their stand on it.

Hardly any politician, female or male, has spoken out against this practice. Although the Maa people argue that FGM is part of their culture aimed at bonding their units based on age and gender, the government sees it as a retrospective and backward, saying it interferes with the growth and education of girls.

Most FGM survivors the Star interviewed do not blame their parents for allowing their girls to be cut but accuse the community leaders and customs that dictate their destiny. For example, if a girl is the firstborn in a family and is followed by a son, the son cannot be circumcised before the firstborn. They claim it is a taboo and any family disobeying the dictates of the community risk being banished.

A case in point is that of Selina Sopiato from Olgulului group ranch in Loitokitok. She was forced to undergo FGM to open the way for her younger brother to be circumcised. Sopiato’s father was opposed to her daughter’s genital mutilation, and the process was delayed for more than 10 years before his agemates threatened to curse him. He had no option but to accept. Sopiato at 17 years was finally cut and her pride brought to an end. Sopiato, a University of Nairobi law graduate, now says she does not blame her parents but the community for driving them into an insane deed.

Because of the government’s resolve to end FGM, some families have changed tack and are now doing it under the cover of darkness. Some anti-FGM activists have also introduced an alternative passage for girls into adulthood, which appears to be gaining ground in Narok and Kajiado counties. However, this alternative passage is now being abused as some parents cheat the process. They either cut their daughters before or after they have undergone the alternative rites.

Kenya banned FGM in 2011, but it appears the fight against this injurious practice is not making gains because it lacks goodwill from residents. Those still propagating FGM have banned ceremonies and are now cutting their daughters secretly without letting ‘outsiders’ know what is going on.

In the absence of goodwill from the people, the fight against these outdated practices will continue for many generations to come.

WOMEN DEFEND CUT

In December 2015, police raided a house in Kajiado and arrested four women. They had just undergone FGM and wore strings on their legs as a sign to the community of their new status. The four were all married but claimed they were not happy because they had not previously undergone FGM.

The case died a natural death like many others that involve gender-based violence. The community believes in resolving their issues without involving the police. Anybody attempting to indulge the police on social issues is normally identified as ‘enemy’ of the community. Cases of elderly people marrying minors in most communities in Narok and Kajiado are common. What has been established by government agencies on young girls undergoing the cut is that after the passage of the rite, they tend to believe they have now become women and do not see the reason to continue with their education.

When returned to school, they will not feel comfortable learning with uncut girls in the same class because they consider them ‘dirty’. Moranism has also contributed to the maintenance of the cut practice on girls because most of them have vowed not to marry uncircumcised women. There is also this belief that it is a taboo for a girl to get pregnant before undergoing the cut.

On June 3, 2014, three journalists were beaten up by pro-FGM women protagonists in Sajiloni, Kajiado Central, on allegations they were working in cahoots with chiefs to end the female cut. The women destroyed property in Sajiloni market, prompting immediate closure of the town by authorities. They shouted that circumcision is their choice and the Constitution should open a leeway for them to continue with their culture.

“We cannot afford to abandon the rich culture that we found our forefathers practising. The government should allow as to continue with it,” said Naomi Naserian, 67. Naserian said when a girl is not circumcised, she risks ending up unmarried as suitors shun her. She said uncircumcised women contribute to prostitution as their sex urge is high.