OGOI: Stronger community support systems key to ending FGM

Prioritising community role models is crucial in ensuring that survivors of outdated cultural practices take a leading role

In Summary
  • We have seen renowned women circumcisers publicly denouncing their trade and committing to be at the forefront of the sensitisations against FGM.
  • Notably, the elders publicly declared in one voice to work together to end FGM in their community. It is worth noting that this commitment is already changing minds and behaviours among practitioners of FGM in the community.
Project Coordinator of JHR-Kenya Benard Ogoi
Project Coordinator of JHR-Kenya Benard Ogoi
Image: HANDOUT

Over 150 Pokot elders met at the beginning of 2023 in Chepkokogh Location in the County of West Pokot. The sole aim of the gathering was to deliberate on their role in ending Female Genital Mutilation in their community.

Chepkokogh Location is not only vast and prone to incidences of insecurity but is also characterised by a poor road network, low literacy levels, long distances to schools, inadequate access to electricity and connectivity of communication infrastructure.

These challenges often exacerbate the risk of girls undergoing FGM as they impede the enrolment of vulnerable girls in schools, which would guarantee their safety.

With the support of Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), the elders’ gathering was convened in line with the theme for the 2023 International Zero Tolerance Day for Female Genital Mutilation, “Partnership with Men and Boys to Transform Social and Gender Norms to End Female Genital Mutilation.”

It was a culmination of a series of concerted efforts to bring the elders on board in the campaign against FGM, by I-Rep Foundation, a Community-Based Organisation in the County of West Pokot.

A key outcome of the lobbying with the community gatekeepers was a resolution to establish a community-led steering committee composed of the local administration officials, women, the youth, elders, community role models or anti-FGM champions, and the clergy, as well as survivors of FGM.

Notably, the elders publicly declared in one voice to work together to end FGM in their community. It is worth noting that this commitment is already changing minds and behaviours among practitioners of FGM in the community.

We have seen renowned women circumcisers publicly denouncing their trade and committing to be at the forefront of the sensitisations against FGM.

Their change of behaviour is attributed to the work of the anti-FGM steering community, a product of the elder's forum.

This is a clear manifestation of how collaboration with community gatekeepers is critical in combatting harmful practices such as FGM.

The latest Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS, 2022) indicates that 15 per cent of girls aged below 14 years in Kenya have undergone FGM.

The actual number could be higher, considering remote areas like Chepkokogh location, deeply tucked in the border between the Counties of West Pokot and Elgeyo Marakwet continue to record high prevalence, often unreported to authorities, according to local anti-FGM campaigners.

Some of the factors hindering the reportage of cases to local authorities include uncoordinated interventions among groups working to end female cutting and secrecy.

FGM is increasingly done discretely and away from the hawk eyes of the public due to heightened vigilance from law enforcers.

Further, community anti-FGM campaigners like Domtila Chesang’ who heads the I-Rep Foundation, have repeatedly sounded an alarm over the increasing trend of genitally cutting younger girls compared to previous years.

The attendant effect of this new pattern is that children are exposed to early marriages and reproductive health risks, considering that FGM is mainly practised as a rite of passage into adulthood in most communities.

The good news, according to the survey, is that a majority of Kenyans (94 per cent of women and 92 per cent of men) support the need to end FGM.

This finding provides the much-needed impetus for a stronger community-led support system to own the campaigns and respond effectively to the rapidly changing trends.

Such a support system is only possible if all stakeholders agree to break their silos and collaborate meaningfully, building on their unique strengths to deliver as a collective.

This requires empowering and adequately resourcing grassroots networks and individuals, role models, to lead in the frontline. They are already culturally attached and therefore able to utilise their cultural knowledge and community goodwill to emancipate their sisters, daughters and nieces from continued human rights abuses.

Further, prioritising community role models is crucial in ensuring that survivors of outdated cultural practices take a leading role in sharing their experiences.

It also propels them to be strong ambassadors in mobilizing local custodians of culture to change course for the wellbeing of all girls and women at risk by helping challenge strongly held cultural mindsets.

Since FGM is one of the most harmful forms of GBV, we must constantly remind ourselves that the fight against vice is a struggle against harmful cultural practices.

They not only threaten the reproductive health and rights of girls but also deny them immense opportunities to pursue further education, thereby cutting short their dreams for better economic livelihoods and prosperity.

With the fast-approaching Day of the African Child, 2024, it is imperative that a strong and inclusive community-led response is nurtured and resourced to help trace, document, report and respond effectively to threats of FGM.

In line with the 2024 theme; ‘Education for all children in Africa: the time is now,” the community-led approach will be key in enabling vulnerable girls to stay in school and pursue their careers.

 

Benard Ogoi is the Project Coordinator of JHR-Kenya

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