BY BARRETT JACKSON
Every day, women are treated differently than men – almost always in a negative sense. They are critiqued by society for their bodies. Physical appearance and traits define how they are viewed and determine how they will live their lives.
Gender inequality and injustice has a constant presence in society and a strong influence on the accessibility of opportunities for girls and women. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a prime example of the unfair obstacles girls and women face.
FGM is the practice of partial or complete removal of external female genitalia. There are four different types of FGM, each a combination of removing the labia minora, labia majora, clitoral glans, or narrowing the vaginal opening. All types of FGM are extremely dangerous, painful, and have no medical justification.
In Kenya, FGM is primarily practiced within poor, uneducated, and rural communities. It is a cultural practice signifying a girl’s entry to womanhood, and eligibility for marriage and reproduction. Girls are subjected to FGM between the ages of 10 and 15 years and withdrawn from school for marriage shortly after.
The practice is done to, among other reasons, guarantee women will preserve their virginity and avoid temptation to engage in adulterous behavior. In many communities, girls who do not undergo FGM are considered less valuable, dirty, and unfeminine.
While FGM holds cultural value within a given community, there are no medical benefits. The procedures are done in non-medicalized facilities by unqualified personnel with unsanitary tools. Girls experience immediate complications, such as infection, severe pain, and hemorrhaging, as well as long term complications, like scarring that negatively impacts childbirth and pain during intercourse.
These girls and women suffer emotional, psychological, and physical trauma across their lifetime.
Globally, the WHO reports that more than 200 million girls and women have experienced FGM. In Kenya, 21% of girls and women aged 15 to 49 years, or around 4 million individuals, have been subjected to FGM according to UNICEF.
While it is estimated that 92.5% of Kenyan women and 88.8% of Kenyan men are opposed to FGM, several communities in Kenya, primarily the Kisii and Somali, continue to believe and actively practice FGM.
Despite widespread opposition, the rates in Kenya have been increasing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Families are facing economic hardships and insisting their daughters undergo FGM to increase their bride price. Due to the pandemic, girls are also unable to attend school, leaving no reason to delay their impending marriages for education attainment.
FGM is a global public health issue, as it stretches across 30 countries, and is a violation of human rights. It has a direct negative impact on rates of child marriage, teenage pregnancy, pregnancy complications, and educational attainment. There are no positive health impacts related to FGM, only consequences, complications, and injustices.
To tackle the public health problem of FGM, it is necessary that conversations on FGM are frequent and awareness creation is heightened. Many countries have taken steps to make FGM illegal, such as Kenya enacting the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act in 2011. However, the policies are inconsistent with one another and generally lack governmental reinforcement.
To effectively stop the practice, global unity must be established and vocalized to generate further legal action. By working together and agreeing on a specified law, confusion and loopholes will be avoided, reinforcement will be strengthened, and FGM will be successfully eliminated.
Ms Jackson is an intern at NAYA and a student at American University, Washington D.C