It is still illegal to carry out Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) on women after the High Court of Kenya on Tuesday 29th June 2021, voted to uphold the ban on the harmful practice.

The move was necessary after a female doctor; Dr. Tatu Kamau filed a constitutional petition in 2017 to legalise it arguing that it was unconstitutional, discriminates against “national heritage” and that women above the age of 18 would get the right to choose.

Photo courtesy of Amref

Basically, FGM is the ritual that entails cutting or removal of some or all of the external female genitalia. So far, 4 million girls have undergone the cut with harmful repercussions prompting the country to outlaw the practice in 2011.According to the World Health Organisation FGM can cause profuse  bleeding, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth.

On Tuesday, the three-judge bench voted against her petition observing that there was no conceivable advantage of undergoing the cut. They also opined that revoking the constitution harm women and following survivors’ testimonies there was conviction that any woman or girl would consciously and freely consent to it.

According to Lady Justice Achode, 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. She was emphatic that no person can license another to perform a crime,

Kenya has made commendable strides towards ending FGM and President Kenyatta had vowed to end the practice by January 2022. Practicing FGM can land you in prison for up to three years.

FGM is seen as a rite of passage among tribes such as the Gikuyu, Maasai and Kuria among others. According to the United Nations, 21 percent of Kenyan women between the age of 15 and 49 have been cut and at least 200 million girls and women across 30 countries are also affected by the practice.

Statistically speaking

According to the AMREF health Africa,

  • It is estimated that between 100and 140 million girls and women currently live with the most consequences of FGM, most of them in 28 African countries
  • FGM in Kenya has been on a decline (32% in 2003and 21% in 2014)
  • Prevalence has remained highest among the Somali (97%), Kisii (96%), Kuria (96%) and the Maasai (93%), relatively low among the Kikuyu, Kamba and Turkana, and rarely practiced among the Luo and Luhya.
  • In Africa, 3 million girls face the risk of undergoing FGM every year

 So what is the alternative?

The Community-Led Alternative Rites of Passage (CL-ARP) Model instituted by Amref Health Africa to address Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) in Kenya has contributed to a 24% decline in the prevalence of the practice over the past decade in Kajiado county.

CL-ARP, which has been implemented by Amref in Kajiado County since 2009, seeks to retain the harmless cultural rituals and celebrations around the transition to womanhood while encouraging communities to shun FGM/C and embrace alternative rites of passage (ARP) that do not include the cut.

A study titled Impact of Community Led Alternative Rites of Passage on Eradication of FGM/C in Kajiado County, Kenya & The Effects of COVID-19 Pandemic on FGM/C and Child, Early and Forced Marriages in Kenya, carried out to assess the effectiveness of the CL-ARP approach, revealed that the model has contributed to a 24% decline in FGM/C, from 80.8% before its roll-out to 56.6% in 2019.

The model has also led to a four-fold reduction in child marriage rates from 1.2% to -6.1%, and consequently an increase in schooling years, with girls who previously attended school for only 3.1 years now staying in school for 5.6 years.

‘‘We believe in community-led, community-driven cultural alternatives to FGM/C that don’t subject girls to any form of cutting or force them to become child brides or teenage mothers, and those that enable them to continue their education,’’ said Dr. Meshack Ndirangu, Country Director, Amref Health Africa in Kenya while speaking during the release of the study.

‘‘We have been championing an end to FGM/C to promote empowerment of girls and women. While we recognise the cultural significance of the practice especially among pastoral communities, we must also acknowledge that it poses significant health risks, endangers the lives of girls and women, and infringes on their human rights.”

“In light of this, Amref is working closely with communities to educate them on the health and socio-economic risks of FGM/C, and to give them culturally relevant alternatives that still allow for the celebration of this milestone – the transition from childhood to womanhood – while protecting girls and women,’’ he added.

FGM/C prevalence stands at 27% according to the latest Kenya Demographics Health Survey (KDHS, 2014). Although there has been a decline over the years the practice is still rampant in many pastoral communities, exposing young girls to early marriage and teenage pregnancy, which forces them to drop out of school.