Why female genital mutilation is a major health concern

By Jane Babirye
On 25 July 2023 at 03:03

Africa is a continent, home to people speaking different languages with rich cultures and lifestyles. While these cultural variations are fascinating and often celebrated, it is essential to acknowledge that some practices in certain regions have come under scrutiny for violating human rights in today’s modern world.

In the horn of Africa, female genital mutilation (FGM) is among the cultural practices done in regards to the ‘high moral value’ tied to virginity and sex despite being declared a criminal act in; September 1985 under ‘the prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985”.

It was replaced by ‘the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003’ which came into force in 2004 and further amended by the ‘Serious Crime Act 2015’.

During the recently concluded Women Deliver Conference 2023 held in Kigali, Rwanda; women’s organizations, mostly female activists across Africa, under their umbrella ‘Frontline ending FGM’ gathered in solidarity in one space to find solutions to the ongoing practice as part of the UN mandate to end FGM by 2030.

IGIHE spoke to Sess, an activist from Kenya at the ‘Frontline ending FGM’ booth during the conference to explain what their work entails.

"Basically, what we do is sensitize the community about the harmful cultural practices because they have been medically proven to be very detrimental. We have girls and women going through difficult economic times as a result of the various medical conditions they experience," she said.

As a gynecologist specializing in the management of ’prolapse and incontinence’, conditions that can be linked to FGM, Dr. Willison emphasizes that FGM survivors may encounter challenges such as intimacy pain and menopausal issues as they age. These long-term complications could significantly impact their quality of life and, in severe cases, may even lead to death.

According to Sess, the communities that cut in Kenya include; Somali’s, Kiisi, Masai, Kuria, Kalenjin, Taita and Taveta, Meru, and immigrants among others. She added that these communities have different reasons for performing the act, all which rotate around; society, culture and religion.

“The Somali’s tie it to the religion bit, in communities where I work they tie it to culture. To them, it’s a social norm and they want to continue doing it because they want to appease their leaders,” she mentioned.

Considered a transition of ‘girls into womanhood’ in practicing communities, FGM not only varies in beliefs but also the way it is done, said Sess.

She told IGIHE that there are various types of FGM: Type 1 (clitoridectomy) where they either cut the entire part/partial removal of the clitoris, Type 2 (excision) where they cut the clitoris in half and Type 3(infibulation) or type 3 genitalia, very common among the Somali’s.

“Here, they scoop everything out and sew it together leaving the girl/woman with a very small part to ease herself and for menstruation’, it is a very crazy practice,” she exclaimed.

Despite their efforts, Sess acknowledged that there are challenges hindering their work from resistant movements that are against the practice. However, she says that they won’t back down as it is against human rights.

Funded by ‘Global Leader campaign’, the Frontline movement supports activists (people on ground) to create awareness on harmful cultural practices.

They use local media and social media where they bring medical professionals, law enforcers, reformed cutters, elders, community members, and all stakeholders to give their different context and perspective on the practice and how it can be stopped.

FGM was legally recognized in Kenya in 1999 by the Ministry of Health under the National Plan of Action for the Elimination of FGM/FGC.

Globally, FGM was declared a criminal act in September 1985 under ‘the prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985”. It was replaced by ‘the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003’ which came into force in 2004 and further amended by the ‘Serious Crime Act 2015’.

Delegates posing for a photo at a pre-conference focused on ending FMG on Sunday 16th July 2023. Photo by The New Times