All eyes are set on President Uhuru Kenyatta's commitment to end female genital mutilation (FGM) by 2022 amid high prevalence rates in some parts of the country.
The President will today, March 5, witness the Kisima declaration to end female genital mutilation (FGM) in Samburu County where elders are set to declare their support for the crusade against the vice.
Kenya outlawed the practice eight years ago, but it continues as some communities that believe it is necessary for social acceptance and increases marriage prospects.
One in five women and girls aged between 15 and 49 in Kenya have undergone the female genital cut, which involves the partial or total removal of the genitalia and can cause a host of serious health complications, according to the United Nations.
In 2019, President Kenyatta promised to end FGM by 2022 and all forms of gender-based violence and harmful practices by 2030.
"Kenya commits to eliminate female genital mutilation by 2022. In addition, the country will eliminate all forms of gender-based violence and harmful practices by 2030 through the strengthening of coordination mechanisms and by addressing cultural norms that propagate these practices," the President said in November, 2019.
Law enforcement agents
In Samburu community, however, the vice continues in top secrecy despite strict government legislation effected 10 years ago. Girls as young as eight years are forced to undergo the cut far from the glare of the public and law enforcement agents. Initially, the exercise was conducted openly amid traditional and colourful celebrations.
It is said that the change of tact by the communities is driven by the never-ending urge by local elders to pass the practice to future generations.
Anti-FGM crusaders are optimistic that President Kenyatta's intervention, involvement of elders and religious leaders in the semi nomadic region, will see the practice decline, because they (elders) are decision makers in the community.
The much awaited Kisima declaration will greatly boost the battle against FGM in Samburu as religious and cultural leaders are expected to vow to crusade against the harmful practice.
The elders are expected to sign declaration forms to heed support to end FGM. Nation.africa has also established that the forms contain clauses that spell doom to anyone found undertaking FGM, that he or she would face the law.
The declarations are also set to cement other retrogressive cultural practices including early marriages, rape and teen pregnancies and emphasize equal treatment of boys and girls in terms of education.
Anti-FGM Chief Executive Officer Bernadette Loloju is confident the President's commitment towards elimination of FGM, which that affects 21 per cent of Kenya's female population will be successful.
She noted that there is a positive progress in the renewed anti-FGM campaign.
Bank on elders
"The government welcomes the commitment by religious and cultural leaders from communities to end practice of FGM by 2022. We know they are key in this fight and we are confident that the war will be won," Ms Loloju told nation.africa in an exclusive interview.
The official said the government will bank on elders and other opinion leaders in Samburu and other parts where FGM is rampant to sensitize communities on the need to abandon the practice and embrace alternative rites of passage.
"Elders are decision makers in Samburu and most communities and that is why we are confident they will use their influence to enlighten communities on the hazards associated with FGM," she added.
Samburu County Director of Social Services Nasiaku Letipila said that progressive legislation coupled with sensitization campaigns will see the decline of FGM among Samburu girls.
"So far, the enactment of progressive laws has reduced FGM prevalence but I believe that with the involvement of local opinion shapers, we will have a sharp reduction of the FGM cases in Samburu."
She lauded the community elders and other stakeholders in Samburu who are leading the war against the retrogressive culture.
Rooted cultural practice
"I urge them to continue to take anti-FGM messaging to locals; they are opinion leaders in their respective villages," she stated.
Samburu Girls Foundation Executive Director Josephine Kulea was optimistic that ending the deeply rooted cultural practice in the region would be achieved, as the government banks on the elders.
She appealed to the elders and religious leaders to take the campaigns to the doors of locals that still practice FGM.
The campaign by the government is aimed at reaching counties where there is high preference of FGM.
To prevent the circumcisers from going back to the outlawed practice, the government introduced affirmative action funds including National Government Affirmative Action Fund (NGAAF), Women Enterprise Funds and Uwezo Funds, as alternative sources of income.
According to the Ministry of Gender Youth and Public Services, Somali, Samburu, Kisii and Maasai communities recorded the highest FGM prevalence rates with Somali leading at 94 per cent. Samburu was second at 86 per cent, Kisii (84 per cent) and Maasai (78 per cent).