AMWIK/Girl Generation Inter-generational dialogue to stem FGM in Kuria
By Anne Sokoto
While you might think that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is fast coming to an end in Kenya, the practice is still widely celebrated across different communities. Among the Kuria community in Migori County, the practice continues to threaten access to education for thousands of girls, with estimates from the Kenya Demographic Health Survey 2014 showing that at least 3 in every 5 girls might not complete basic education as a result of the practice.
Strong cultural structures have sustained FGM practice among the Kuria people for decades, with girls and families that reject the cut often regarded as community outcasts. 20 year old Bettina is one such girl in her community and is among the lucky girls to escape the cut. As a result, Bettina and her family of six sisters have been shunned away and abandoned by their clan and community who now regard them as outcasts.
Bettina’s education is no longer a guarantee because she rejected circumcision. Besides, her family members in Remanyanki village cannot freely participate in community social gatherings since they have collectively refused to embrace the knife for their girls, the community’s cherished rite of passage into adulthood.
The effects of FGM on the sexual and reproductive health of women and girls cannot be refuted. Judith, 23 years old and a mother of three narrates how the once colorful ceremony complete with gifts, praises and a bull slaughtered to celebrate her transition to womanhood marked a turn-around in her life. Circumcised at 12 years old, Judith was very happy with her decision to undergo the cut. “I could now be regarded as an adult by the community. Even my parents could no longer punish me at will as I was now mature,” she explains. Immediately after her class 8, Judith got married at 13 years, marking the beginning of a new painful chapter in her life, ‘in all my three deliveries I had to undergo surgery due to birth complications,’ she remarks noting, “I have never delivered normally since then and the process keeps becoming painful.” Asked about her peers who did not get circumcised, “they are in a better place than I am, they completed their education, some up to University level and got good jobs,” she explains sadly.
Angeline (not her real name), a mother of two was also married before her 13th birthday having been circumcised at only age 11 years. She explains that delivering her two babies has been a life-threatening experience. “My births have been very painful and I have always wondered why my younger sisters did not experience the same problems. During my second delivery the doctor said it was a miracle I survived.”
Despite the well documented reproductive health challenges on the lives of women and girls globally, ignorance, lack of awareness and emerging trends of medicalization and reducing age of circumcision continue to hinder efforts to eradicating FGM practise. Amidst these stumbling blocks is a legal petition in the High Court, seeking to declare Kenya’s Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act 2011 illegal (https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/health/article/2001264973/doctor-fight-to-legalize-fgm)
In contributing towards efforts to eradicate the practice among communities, the Association of Media Women in Kenya, AMWIK, in collaboration with Girl Generation has given young people in Kuria a platform to hold inter-generational dialogues on FGM. Using live radio talk shows and radio listening clubs, young boys and girls now understand the myths that sustain the practise in their community, the health dangers of the cultural practice, and laws that seek to protect the rights of women and girls against practices considered harmful to their health.
With the knowledge gained, Judith has since shelved the idea of circumcising her daughters as she had initially planned, thanks to the listening and dialogue sessions. “I have learnt the cause of my challenges; the pain, swelling and complications during delivery, she says adding, “and we have agreed with my husband that we’ll never circumcise our daughters.”
She confidently explains to her peers about the effects of FGM, “I have been talking to my friends even at the market and they agree that FGM is harmful,” she notes.
For Angeline, her initially nostalgic past has fast faded away as she promises not to circumcise her daughters. “I know what circumcision has cost me,” she remarks, adding, “I am happy for the radio listening sessions because I know where my problems started from and I will not let any of my daughters drop out of school and face the same challenges I went through.
Among the beneficiaries of the intergenerational radio sensitization forums is Ms Wasike, a member of Maranatha Faith Assemblies Church in Kuria West sub-county, Migori County. Wasike, 57, says she has been educating her children and grandchildren on the harmful effects of the practice.“At first it was hard for my children to believe what I was telling them, that they should never cut their girls, but I explained how FGM affects marriage and the relationship between spouses,” she narrates. She confides that her own experience with the practice convinced her family members to embrace her new position on FGM.
Wasike regrets that Kuria men have often married women from neighboring communities that don’t circumcise their girls while leaving their circumcised wives. But with knowledge from the radio lessons, she quips, “I am optimistic that my community will soon stop circumcising girls.”