In the past year, I have been listening to many different conversations about medical FGM and how it’s safer compared to the traditionally performed FGM. But can we really medicalize a crime and make it okay? Because that is what Female Genital Mutilation is, a crime that takes away so much from women and girls. Not only does FGM have zero medical or health benefits, it literally puts the lives of women and girls at risk and exposes them to many morbidities. Whether performed medically or traditionally, FGM remains to be an act that strips women and girls of their human rights and therefore should not be tolerated.
Unfortunately, according to UNICEF four million girls and women in Kenya have undergone FGM which involves the cutting or removal of some or all of the external female genitalia. I recently got a chance to speak to an FGM survivor who narrated to me how the experience was for her. She mentioned how she was scared when her parents took her to this old woman’s house, the woman who was famously known for performing the act in their village. It didn't end there, she took me through how she constantly kept on looking at the door, hopeful that her parents would change their minds and come to her rescue …. But they never came.
The fact that FGM is packaged as a rite of passage for women and girls makes it even harder to end. This is because cultural practices such as rites of passage are highly regarded in our different cultures. Girls are told that FGM will transform them from girls to women and that it will highly increase their chances of getting married. They are told that after undergoing FGM, they will be respected in their communities and basically secure their place in the community. Alongside all these promises are gifts that women and girls are given before and after undergoing FGM. These practices sugarcoat FGM and make it seem like a positively life-changing experience. The truth is that FGM is life-changing, but not in a good way as it may cause excessive bleeding, infertility, complications during childbirth, and death.
Even though FGM was rendered unlawful in Kenya in 2011, there have been many efforts to legalize the act. One clear example of such efforts was back in 2017 when DR Tatu Kamau filed a constitutional petition calling for the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act to be declared unconstitutional as it discriminates against "national heritage". She argued that women above the age of 18 should have the right to choose. But fortunately, we dodged a bullet thanks to the three-judge bench who voted against her petition and said revoking the constitution would be detrimental to women and that after observing survivors' testimonies, the court was convinced that no woman or girl would consciously and freely consent to FGM. Additionally, the Nairobi High Court also said there is no conceivable benefit of FGM, "The implication of this is that FGM/C cannot be rendered lawful because the person on whom the act was performed consented to that act. No person can license another to perform a crime," said Lady Justice Achode. This goes to show that we still have people who strongly believe that FGM is beneficial and should be allowed.
As we commemorate the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, we need to remember that such a harmful practice can never be safe. We need to recognize that we all have a key role to play when it comes to ending FGM. This can be done by first owning up to the different parts we have played in creating an environment where FGM can thrive by either being gatekeepers of the practice or not being intentional about fighting it. It is only after reflecting on what has been done so far to end FGM, that we can forge forward and turn these reflections into sustainable actions to end FGM and rid ourselves of this social ill that continues to threaten the lives of women and girls. Living in an FGM-free world is not an illusion but rather an achievable vision. Female Genital Mutilation ends with us!