The Star (Nairobi)

Africa: Zero Tolerance for FGM

opinion

Female genital mutilation is a global outrage, with 100-140 million women and girls affected worldwide. Since 1992, Equality Now has been working to end all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls. Eliminating FGM globally is one of our key priorities. Although progress has been slow at times, recent developments such as the 2012 UN Global Ban, strengthens our ongoing struggle for lasting change.

We are encouraged by recent positive developments in Africa. In the Gambia, where 78.3% of women have undergone FGM, national consultative meetings towards introducing a bill banning FGM have begun, paving the way for the country to join the 19 African countries that have laws against the practice. In Somalia where the prevalence of FGM is almost universal (98 %) and where religious conservatives push for some form of FGM, it is heartening to know that the new constitution includes a ban on all forms of "female circumcision".

Meanwhile, in Kenya, progress in the anti-FGM campaign, measured by the reduction of the national FGM prevalence rates from 38% (1998) to 27% (2008), is linked to increased awareness efforts by civil society organisations and the implementation of the law on FGM in the Children Act passed in 2001. Legal precedents have been set by the Kenyan Courts, preventing parents from forcing their daughters to undergo FGM. A specific law against the practice came into force in 2011, when Kenya joined neighbouring Uganda in having an extra-territoriality clause. This closes the loophole, which previously permitted parents to take girls outside of Kenya to undergo FGM. The 2011 law seeks to prosecute practitioners, procurers, traffickers of (potential) victims, anyone providing premises for practitioners, possession of tools, as well as failure to report a known incident. It prescribes life imprisonment if the exercise leads to the death of a victim of FGM. Kenya's Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development has given the task of coordinating the implementation activities of the FGM Prohibition Act.

Grassroots efforts continue to focus on changing the mindset of practicing communities. One such initiative is the Tasaru Ntomonok Initiative (TNI) in Narok, funded and supported by Equality Now. TNI was instrumental in the conviction of the father of 12 year old Sasiano Nchoe and her circumciser. Sasiano bled to death following FGM. The 2010 ruling, based on the Children's Act of 2001, was facilitated by Equality Now's Adolescent Girls Legal Defense Fund with the help of TNI.

TNI provides a safe house for Maasai girls who have been alienated due to their rejection of FGM and forced into early marriage as they pursue their education. It also reaches out to the Maasai community, educating them about the harmful effects of FGM and encourages them to adopt alternative rites of passage for young girls, which do not include the cut. Equality Now is also supporting efforts to encourage the re-integration of the girls into their communities. The recent Kenya demographic and health survey indicates a decline in the prevalence of FGM among the Maasai from 93% (2003) to 73% (2008).

The global effort to eliminate FGM also took a major step forward last year at the United Nations General Assembly, where a Group of African States presented a draft resolution to intensify global efforts.

In Burkina Faso, where the law is applied alongside public education, there has been a dramatic reduction of FGM prevalence between women (74%) and their daughters (25%) with only 14.2% of women surveyed in that country want the practice to continue. This illustrates what success is possible if a government addresses the issue seriously and comprehensively. But huge challenges continue to exist. In Liberia, although President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has pledged to make the elimination of FGM a government priority, FGM is still practiced. Over 58% of women have already undergone FGM in Liberia, while the powerful Sande secret society continues to carry it out on young girls with impunity. As is the case in Sierra Leone, FGM is a "vote-catcher" and governments avoid asserting their authority when it comes to traditional power structures. It is hoped that President Sirleaf will do more to help women as well as the countless others at risk of undergoing FGM in Liberia.

Recent progress illustrates that although we continue to face challenges in our drive to eliminate FGM in Africa and globally, the movement is gathering pace. On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of Zero Tolerance to FGM, we call on all countries where the FGM is legal to enact laws prohibiting the practice as a matter of urgency.

A world without FGM is in sight, but we now need to redouble our efforts to ensure that worldwide legislative change takes place, but also that educational efforts, which inform both practicing communities - and the general public about the harm FGM does to girls - are drastically increased. In focusing on these two areas, we can ensure that that the next generation of girls is safeguarded from this destructive and entirely unnecessary practice.

Faiza Jama Mohamed is the director of Equality Now's Nairobi office. She also serves as a member of the African Union Women's Committee. Equality Now works for the protection and promotion of the human rights of women and girls around the world.

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