By Elizabeth Mbula
Kenya is on a clear path to eradicating Female Genital Mutilation and other harmful practices by next year as declared by President Uhuru Kenyatta. This week’s declaration by the Office of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) is a shot in the arm for the efforts stalled for decades due to a lack of a proper legal framework or political goodwill.
That we now have a specific procedure to investigate and prosecute such cases is a positive step towards protecting women and girls, particularly in the remote villages of Kenya where FGM is practiced openly, and with the knowledge of local authorities.
Organisations like the Voice of Women and Girls’ Rights (VWGR) had called for serious interventions and related policies if the president’s commitment was to succeed.
Sammy Muraya, the Programs Director at VWGR, said the lack of specific policies and interventions by the government was making the president’s commitment unachievable and has welcomed the Standard Operating Procedures for the prosecution of FGM cases that were launched last week.
The SOPs developed pursuant to the National Prosecution Policy, Article 157 of the Constitution of Kenya, the National and International Legal Framework that seeks to eradicate female genital mutilation and other harmful cultural practices will now guide investigations and prosecutions which were a challenge to law enforcement officers.
We have always read news reports of people arrested on related offenses, particularly in Maasai land, Samburu Kisii where the practice is rampant but they are usually let free with no charges. But with these SOPs launched by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, I hope we will see action.
I just hope it will not be another song with sweet melodies that will form part of the country’s history. Let the prosecutors and police take the matter seriously, implement the policy, and file cases for prosecution even the past ones.
The DPP said he took deliberate steps in the fight against FGM by developing these Standard Operating procedures (SOPs) whose main objective is to standardize and bring consistency and efficiency in the investigation and prosecution of FGM cases.
The SOPs lay out what is required of a prosecutor in making the decision to charge, the evidence required, the conduct of trial and how to handle victims and witnesses in the prosecution of FGM and related crimes. It also highlights how to foster better collaboration, cooperation and coordination among stakeholders involved in the fight against FGM.
This, therefore, will develop and enhance essential skills that will empower the prosecutor to carry out their tasks in accordance with international best practices. These SOPs clearly forms a basis for addressing disparities in the investigation and prosecution of FGM cases.
“It is my hope that successful conviction of FGM cases will ultimately lead to prevention and eradication of FGM, hence promoting the rights of girls and women and foster full realization of their potential,” the DPP said when he launched the SOPs in Nairobi last week. But even law enforcers implement the SOPs, community members have a big role to play in calling out parents who support and undertake FGM on their girls.
This is a harmful cultural practice and a form of violence against girls and women that lead to their disempowerment and violation of their rights. Female genital mutilation being one of the harmful cultural practices is a deep-rooted practice in the communities that practice it.
These communities carry out FGM for various reasons, including the misconceived belief that it is essential for marriage, transition to womanhood and for ornamental purposes. No, this is not true. As a woman, I stand to be counted for opposing this archaic practice.
Let us all speak out against it, even men. I am happy that we have organizations like Men End FGM that rally men to join the cause. “The campaign against FGM should not be left to women alone, we must all take part and that is why I always urge men to speak out against it and also protect their women and girls against this vice,” said Tony Mwebia of Men End FGM, a global award-winning movement that rallies men and boys to join the quest to end FGM.
According to the 2014 Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS), the prevalence of FGM among women aged between 15‐49 in Kenya is about 21 percent roughly translating to about 2.75 million girls and women who have undergone the cut.
However, this is not uniform across the country as certain areas have more prevalence. The North-Eastern part of Kenya for example has a prevalence of over 94 percent while the western region has a low of 1 percent.
Let us all work together to end FGM. Let us protect women and girls from this harmful practice.