This week, the US government stands in solidarity with people around the world and here in Kenya who are observing the ninth annual International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C).
Zero Tolerance Day fosters awareness of the harmful effects of female genital mutilation/cutting and renews the call for communities to abandon this inhumane practice. It is estimated that 100 to 140 million women around the world have undergone this procedure, and three million girls in Africa, including many in Kenya, are at risk every year.
In the United States, the procedure also takes place among some immigrant communities, and we have worked with health and legal professionals to sensitize practitioners about the negative consequences of FGM/C.
FGM/C refers to a procedure involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia. It is a practice that occurs across cultures and religions, although in fact no religion mandates the procedure.
The practice is often performed employing no anaesthesia and often using such instruments as broken glass, tin lids, scissors, unsterilized razors or surgical blades. In Kenya, while surgeons still hold sway, they are increasingly joined by traditional birth attendants, especially in cases where a woman needs to be cut during birth.
Some medical personnel also perform the procedure, often motivated by relatively high fees paid for the operation. In addition to causing intense pain and psychological trauma, FGM/C carries with it severe short and long-term health risks, including haemorrhaging, infection, increased risk of HIV transmission, birth complications, and even death.
FGM/C is a practice deeply rooted in beliefs about women’s sexuality, and involves a rite of passage into adulthood that has extremely negative consequences on the health and overall mental well-being of women and girls around the world. It is a practice that hinders women’s access to equality and violates the rights and dignity of women and girls. Some people still defend this practice as part of a cultural or religious tradition. But as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has reiterated, violence toward women and girls is not cultural. It is criminal.
Around the world, community-based approaches involving women and men, girls and boys, religious leaders, and all members of society are proving to be the only lasting solutions. In fact, community advocates have found that when men come to understand the physical and psychological trauma of FGM/C, they often become the most effective activists for eradication, including fathers who unequivocally refuse to allow their daughters to be subjected to the procedure.
Communities must act collectively to abandon the practice, so that girls and their families who opt out do not become social outcasts. Communities working together to abandon FGM/C can ensure stronger, healthier futures for girls, young women, and their families.
Last year, Kenya enacted the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act, which provides for up to seven years in jail or a fine of Sh500,000 ($5,882) for anyone who commits FGM. As part of our commitment to help Kenya end this harmful practice, the US government is partnering with Kenyan community-based organizations that focus on addressing sexual and gender based violence, including FGM/C, through integrated services.
The US Agency for International Development is helping train circumcisers and traditional birth attendants on the negative effects of FGM and its relation to HIV/AIDS, incorporating anti-FGM topics as a key issue of discussion in community radio messages and in all life skills trainings, and working with religious leaders to disseminate anti-FGM messages to communities through mosques and other social forums in Marsabit Central, Garba Tula, Isiolo and Merti Districts.
The US government is proud to support women and men around the world who denounce this harmful practice and seek to abolish it. It is exciting to see communities here in Kenya and around the world standing up together against FGM/C to overturn deeply entrenched social norms that are not only harmful to women and girls, but also to our communities and societies.
We all have an obligation to work together for the equality, well-being, and prosperity of Kenyan citizens of all tribes, ethnic groups, religions, and of both sexes – male and female.
Brudvig is the Chargé d’Affaires at the US embassy in Nairobi.