Changing attitudes towards FGM in northern Kenya

25 November 2014

Survivors of FGM have to live with the effects every day of their lives.

Survivors of FGM have to live with the effects every day of their lives.

During the 16 days of activism against gender violence campaign (25 November - 10 December) CAFOD is sharing stories about our gender work around the world.

CAFOD supports programmes to promote gender equality with Church partners in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and the Philippines. Among the nomadic pastoralist communities of Samburu County in northern Kenya female genital mutilation (FGM) is a common occurrence.

Just over one in four girls and women in Kenya have undergone FGM and the consequences can be devastating. Girls often suffer from profuse bleeding, shock and recurrent urinary infections.  Later in life, they have an increased risk of problems during childbirth and newborn deaths. The practice can also lead to more early and forced marriages since girls are considered to have entered ‘womanhood’ post-procedure.

There has been a generational shift and fewer daughters are suffering FGM compared to their mothers, but community attitudes are deep-rooted and a lot more work is needed to end the practice. It is a violation of the human rights of women and girls and is symptomatic of deep-rooted gender inequalities.

Gender equality discussions

Thanks to training from local NGO Gender Environmental & Sustainable Development, local Caritas organisations in Kenya are now including discussions around gender equality in all their community training sessions. Our partner Caritas Maralal ensures that gender violence is a topic in all its workshops, and they are targeting traditional community leaders in Samburu County on issues surrounding FGM.

These workshops are having a huge impact. One male participant said, “When I came here, I had no clue about what we were coming to hear and I decided to defend my status quo, but after the games we played here and discussions we have had, I believe that I and many of my friends have been living in darkness of knowledge especially on FGM.”

One elderly Samburu woman who also once defended FGM said during the training workshop, “Today I am able to see the dangers of following cultural practices whose time is long gone.”

Defeating FGM

We hope that these workshops will have a ripple effect, gradually spreading the message throughout the communities. Espila Lucy, the officer responsible for gender at Caritas Maralal is optimistic: "The practice of FGM shall eventually be defeated through women’s empowerment by enabling women to have leadership positions in their communities, by training women, men, girls and boys on the negative effects of FGM, by liaising with the Kenya anti-FGM board and by working with men as agents of gender-based violence response and prevention."

CAFOD's World Gift of a healthy mum and baby can help make sure women are well looked after before and after they give birth. The £30 gift also provides vaccinations, HIV testing, malaria treatment and extra food for children at risk of becoming malnourished.                            

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