KIRUKU: FGM is no sweetener, let our girls be!

KIRUKU: FGM is no sweetener, let our girls be!

An estimated 200 million women have undergone female genital mutilation in over 27 countries in Africa with a rate of 80-98 per cent within the age bracket of 15-49. These estimates by UNICEF are not mere statistics but tabulate cruel inhuman acts committed against millions of women around the world.

Fortunately, this severely degrading and retrogressive practice will soon receive serious attention and official action, following a move by East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) Member Dora Byamukama to introduce a Bill to outlaw it.

Entitled the East African Community Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Bill, 2016, the Bill has received considerable support from EALA members. It seeks to classify FGM as a violation of the fundamental rights of women. The practice is deeply rooted in gender inequality and attempts to control women’s sexuality and ideas about purity, modesty and aesthetics.

The effects of female genital mutilation on women and girls cannot be overemphasised; from its health to psychological effects, the consequences are varied but profound. The health effects can include recurrent infections, difficulty urinating and passing menstrual flow, chronic pain, the development of cysts, an inability to get pregnant, complications during childbirth, and fatal bleeding. All of these effects are more severely felt by marginalised women and girls in rural areas and slums who cannot access medical health services when complications arise from the painful and dangerous procedure.

While we cannot underestimate the efforts made by authorities to end FGM, a lot more needs to be done to ensure women are legally protected from it. The work of netting the cruel perpetuators has largely been left to non-governmental organisations, who have often complained of lack of support from the government to bring the criminals to account.

Some local government officials such as chiefs and their assistants have been blamed for complacency and leniency in dealing with perpetrators. Some of them, in fact, are actually sympathisers of the criminals and help in propagating the heinous act.

It is a shame that unscrupulous medical workers have also been carrying out the procedure in their clinics. It is sad that qualified medical personnel, who fully understands the heath complications of FGM, can take part in this illegal practice.

As the East African integration agenda gains momentum and as countries in the region open up their borders, such backward cultural practices should not form any part of the emerging collaboration. With implementation of the Common Market Protocol and the resultant free movement of people and goods across borders, there is a likelihood of such negative influences spreading even further. People may also cross borders to perform such procedures in more lenient jurisdictions.

But it is also prudent to recognise that laws and policies, though important, may not on their own bring an end to this decades-old practice. It is the duty of everyone to do their part in ending such outdated traditions.

The media has done a remarkable job in highlighting the plight of FGM victims and drawing attention to the vice. Many NGOs have done a commendable job, too, despite some of them being accused of inflating statistics of those affected so as to attract donor funding.

It is indeed criminal and highly insensitive for any NGOs to use the sad scenario affecting millions of girls for unjustified financial gain. The unscrupulous merchants behind such organizations must be made to face the law.

To compound matters, some religious sects have been compromised and remain largely silent on this issue for fear of offending their congregants. The time has now come for all such sects and their leaders to stand up to be counted. For them to perpetuate the silence is to become accomplices in the destruction of the lives of millions of girls and women.

Naturally, the greatest responsibility lies with the region’s law enforcement authorities, who must ensure that perpetrators are put behind bars. Out-of-court settlements for such criminal acts should not be entertained.

The battle against FGM cannot be won without a total cultural change. Educating the society on its dangers is therefore of paramount importance. Men, who hold the power in our communities, must be educated that a woman makes a better, more productive wife when she is not mutilated.

As we commend the regional Assembly for initiating legislation against FGM, individual governments must commit to ending the violation of the human rights of our girls and women. We are to move in tandem with the rest of the world and attain the beacon status of health for all.

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Story By Anne Kiruku
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