Many women in different parts of the world have faced circumcision, commonly known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Africa is a continent that has extensively reported cases of FGM, and other parts of the world that practices some indigenous culture, especially the Muslim dominated Middle East countries. The age at which a woman undergoes FGM varies from one region to another, such that a child after being born could be subjected to FGM , while in other areas, a woman who gets her first born is made to undergo the practice.
The communities that practice this custom hold high regards for the practice as it demonstrates transition period to womanhood. Therefore, this practice is made to ensure that a circumcised girl is taught the practices that would lead her to being a good wife and mother (IRIN, 2009a). One commonality among the different members of the community who practice FGM is that the major aim is to make a woman remain a virgin until her marriage time, since the removal of her genitalia reduces her sexual desires.
In most of the communities carrying out this practice, men prefer to marry circumcised women, meaning the parents have to make their daughters marriageable by circumcising them. Therefore, it can be argued that it is the men who make this practice to prosper. On the other hand, it is the role of the elder women, (mothers and grandmothers) to organize for the circumcision of the young girl, and in some areas, midwives undertakes this role (IRIN, 2009a). This research paper will thus look at how FGM has been practiced in Kenya and the fight against the practice among some communities that hold high regards for the practice.
FGM in Kenya Despite laws being put in place to fight FGM, especially the Child’s protection Act of 2001, this practice is still very common and continues to be practiced in various parts of Kenya (IRIN, 2009b). Even though there are many organizations in the country to educate the communities on the dangers of the practice, still the practice has not been stopped and to some extends being practiced underground. However, there have been increased campaigns by various bodies together with the law enforcement agents to see that the practice comes to an end. Kenyan women are circumcised as a rite to passage into womanhood.
Many girls in Kenya who come from the communities that practice FGM do not continue with their education. This is because the moment a girl undergoes this practice, she is deemed to be fit and ready to get married. It is because of this that there are several communities that have as young as between twelve and fourteen years getting married to very old men so long as the men are able to pay bride price. It has turned out that men are using their daughters to get wealth through bride price paid; hence a girl circumcised is worth more price than uncircumcised girl.
Because of this attachment, some girls are found to voluntarily undertake the practice since it is presumed to increase a woman’s respect (IRIN, 2009b). Maasai is one of the indigenous communities in Kenya that have strongly held to the FGM practice. There are many people from the community (both men and women) who are highly educated, but are afraid to talk openly against the vice in the community because of the fear of social repercussion, especially for leaders who want to get elective posts like in politics. Community members believe that one cannot be a true Maasai if they are not circumcised.
Among the Maasai, FGM is considered to bring honor to the circumcised and her family. This is because such a girl is eligible for marriage, which raises her status and the family in general. There have been increased criticism from the international community against the Maasai practice, but the community hangs on the practice, despite the government of Kenya criminalizing FGM. The Maasai community does not hold any regards for uncircumcised woman in the society no matter her level of education or even the post she holds in the society.
It is even amazing to find that some male candidates in Kenyan politics use the issue of FGM against women who are not circumcised claiming they are not fit to be in public offices. Such issues make fighting FGM to be a very difficult task (IRIN, 2009b). Even though there are many hardliners who have stood in the way of fighting FGM, the efforts of those fighting the practice has started to bear fruits in Kenya, and especially among the Maasai communities. There are some aspects that are associated with FGM that the community has slowly been changing.
For instance, the practice involved the use of one knife for circumcising various girls. But because of the teachings concerning HIV/Aids, the circumcisers have been convinced that it is dangerous to be using a single knife for several people, and have thus started using a single knife for each girl. There are only a few circumcisers who still use one knife for different girls, according to a survey done by Maendeleo Ya Wanawake (MYWO), a women organization that has been at the forefront campaigning against FGM in Kenya.
Although this change appears, slight, it is a show in the right direction that the Maasai community can be convinced to change unnecessary and harmful cultural practices to the better course of the society at large (IRIN, 2009b). There are various measures that have been put in place by the organizations fighting the FGM practice in Kenya to see that this practice comes to an end. One mode has been the introduction of the alternative rites of passage.
In this practice, all the activities, teachings and practices that the girls are undertaken during the circumcision period are taught to the girls who are of age to be circumcised, but excluding the practice of cutting their genitalia. MYWO has held these alternative rites passage practice yearly among different communities in Kenya. In these activities, girls are taught traditional methods of becoming a good woman, while other formal education programs are again incorporated into the teachings.
There are many communities that have adopted this system of alternative rites of passage, but among the Maasai communities, it has been received with a lot of mixed reactions, thus only causing limited success. The concern and the major reason for the Maasai and other communities to practice FGM is basically to reduce sexual urge among the girls, so that they can remain pure until their marriage time , and once married, be faithful to their husbands.
This concern does not seem to be raised in the case of using alternative rites of passage (IRIN, 2009b). Religious leaders have also of late been at the forefront in the fight against FGM practice. Muslim dominated region of North Eastern Kenya has been also known to have high percentage of female circumcision. However, of late, the Muslim religious leaders have taken up the initiative to teach their followers of the importance of doing away with FGM practices. The religious leaders campaigns mostly on Fridays when they offer the religious teachings.
The leaders have played a major role in informing the women that FGM is not an Islamic requirement, hence has to be abandoned. The council of Imams and other Muslim religious leaders has chosen to be undertaking their campaigns on Fridays because it is the time many Muslims gather together as community for their prayers. This is also considered a cheap approach of reaching many people, than having to undertake expensive workshops in hotels (IRIN, 2007). Like the Maasai, the campaigns in the North Eastern Kenya have received mixed reactions among the community members.
There are those who feel that the practice should be stopped, while others feel that the practice is aimed at protecting the girls, hence it has to be preserved at all costs. Many girls in the North Eastern region of Kenya lead miserable lives since they are forced to get married immediately they are circumcised, and they do also have poor lives to lead in their marriage, since they face problems like divorce, for not satisfying their husbands sexually and birth related problems associated with FGM practice (IRIN, 2007).
Conclusion Kenyan government made FGM an illegal offence when it passed the child’s protection Act of 2001, but due lack of enforcement of the law by prosecuting the those who carry out the practice, FGM has continued among different communities like the Maasai who hold a lot of regards to their rituals, hence living according to the traditional rules and refuse to embrace modernization.
Nevertheless, with the increased activities of the outside world within the communities practicing FGM, their influence is slowly changing the perspective of the community especially among the younger educated generation who do not want their daughters to undergo the practice like themselves or their wives. Therefore, this practice is bound to come to an end, but it will take time to change the minds of the indigenous people. Reference: IRIN (2007). KENYA: Religious leaders join anti-FGM fight, retrieved on 25th February 2009 from, http://www. globalexchange.
org/countries/africa/kenya/4648. html. IRIN (2009a). In-Depth: Razor’s Edge – The Controversy of Female Genital Mutilation. AFRICA: When culture harms the girls – the globalisation of female genital mutilation, retrieved on 25th February 2009 from http://www. irinnews. org/IndepthMain. aspx? IndepthId=15&ReportId=62462. IRIN (2009b). In-Depth: Razor’s Edge – The Controversy of Female Genital Mutilation. KENYA: FGM among the Maasai community of Kenya, retrieved on 25th February 2009 from http://www. irinnews. org/InDepthMain. aspx? InDepthId=15&ReportId=62470&Country=Yes.