• Studies reveal that maternal deaths during childbirth are common among counties that practice FGM.
• It is regarded as a rite of passage and cultural practice in some communities.
Every February 6, the world commemorates the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation, FGM.
This year's theme is 'Unleashing Youth Power: One Decade of Accelerating Actions for Zero FGM'.
This event is part of the efforts by United Nations to end FGM. According to a study by the Kenya Demographic Health Survey 2008-09, an estimated 27.1 per cent of girls and women aged 15-49 have undergone FGM.
Prevalence of FGM ranges from 0.8 per cent in the West to over 97 per cent in Northeastern Kenya. Studies also reveal that maternal deaths during childbirth are common among counties that practice FGM.
Regarded as a rite of passage and cultural practice, FGM comes with negative consequences on health ranging from excessive bleeding to hospitalisation due to use of unsterilised equipment, and death. As a cultural practice, girls who have undergone female genital mutilation are forced into marriage.
The Constitution of Kenya has put various provisions in place to prevent female genital mutilation. It outlaws performance and the medicalisation of FGM in Kenya and provides that, “A person who aids, abets, counsels or procures FGM, commit an offence."
More advocacy effort is needed in changing community attitudes to accept the fact that FGM is not only a violation of human rights but also a risk to women's health as well as a barrier to individual growth and development.
Communities should be made to understand that culture will only remain important if it preserves the health of individuals. If society must lose women and girls cannot continue with education due to marriage, then we must do away with the culture.
As we implement the legal provisions relating to the prevention of female genital mutilation, we must also educate the communities on these harmful or retrogressive practices. An effective approach to reducing and finally eliminating FGM is an alternative rite of passage which involves sex education, keeping girls in school and engaging elders in the anti-FGM campaign.
We must also distinguish between religion and culture. Female genital mutilation does not ensure purity or safe sexual behaviour as some religions suggest. The practice only keeps girls vulnerable to forced marriage and health risks.
As we educate communities on the health risks associated with FGM, let us also implement laws to protect girls from the harmful consequences of the practice.
Naya Kenya, Nairobi