Kenya: Shebesh Targets Circumcisers to End FGM

Pupils who underwent an alternative rite of passage (file photo).
9 September 2020

Gender Chief Administrative Secretary Rachel Shebesh is leading a campaign targeted at female circumcisers in efforts to end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the country.

The campaign by the Ministry of Public Service and Gender is aimed at reaching all the 22 counties identified as FGM hotspots.

Speaking in Tana River County during an anti-FGM awareness tour, Ms Shebesh said to prevent the circumcisers from going back to the outlawed practice, the government will link them to alternative sources of income as well as engage them as anti-FGM champions.

This, she added, will be done through affirmative action funds domiciled at the Ministry of Gender, which include the National Government Affirmative Action Fund (NGAAF), Women Enterprise Fund among others.

"We have to talk to them to abandon the harmful practice. Ending FGM is very important to the wellbeing of girls and women not just because it's the law. The scars left after the act is committed, are lifelong and women live with the trauma forever," she said.

Perpetuating vice

Ms Shebesh added that chiefs have a crucial role in ending the vice and warned them of dire consequences if found complacent in perpetuating the vice.

The CAS warned chiefs that ignorance of the law is not an excuse to pardon FGM perpetrators.

She urged them to henceforth, organise anti-FGM awareness barazas in their localities.

Elders in the North Eastern region are known for using Maslaha system in solving sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) cases.

Maslaha is a traditional alternative system of dispute and conflict resolution mostly used in the North Eastern region.

The issue of elders seeking to settle sexual violence matters out of court has been a thorn in the flesh for the government in its effort to end the outlawed practice.

County policies

Anti-FGM Board chairperson Ms Agnes Pareiyo emphasised on the need for more sensitisation forums in the community to ensure FGM ends in the country.

She challenged chiefs and their assistants to be proactive in ending the vice and also urged county governments to accelerate drafting of county polices on FGM.

"Let us allow girls to go to school rather than cutting and marrying them off. As a Board, we are committed to ending the suffering of women and girls for good," said Ms Pareiyo.

Local religious and community leaders have vowed to support efforts by the government to eradicate FGM from the area.

"I have been called names due to my hard-line stand against the outlawed practice. I gladly accept the names but now I am optimistic because many people in my community have joined me in the crusade to end the vice," said Saidia Hussein an anti-FGM champion.

Law enforcers

The chiefs in the county decried the high FGM prevalence in the area adding residents had become innovative and employing to evade law enforcers.

They, however, pledged to enforce the law to the letter to root out the vice in the county.

Apart from targeting the circumcisers, the Gender ministry is working with the Anti-FGM Board on a simplified version of the Anti-FGM Act, 2011 and other key documents on ending FGM.

Already, the campaign has started to yield fruits with several renowned female circumcisers from key hotspot counties of West-Pokot and Garissa abandoning the harmful practice and handing their tools of trade to ministry officials.

The women have vowed to support the government and be part of efforts to weed out FGM in their respective counties.

Drop the blade

In May, Sandau Kuunya, an 85-year-old woman from Nkolile village in Loitoktok, announced she had decided to drop the blade and become a champion against FGM.

The mother of 12 children said she stopped the exercise and threw away her tools in a latrine upon realising the practice ruined the future of girls and gave her no profit.

She told journalists she started circumcising girls when she was 30 years old, and got a sheep for every girl she cut.

Ms Kuunya said she could not recall the number of girls she cut in all those years before she quit.

Since November last year, there has been an elaborate effort by the government to fight the vice after President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the campaign to eradicate FGM by 2022.

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