Tag Archives: FGM

Ending FGM & Harmful Traditional Practices: Engaging Our Religious & Cultural Leaders

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By Otina Kennedy*

In many African communities, cultural leaders are increasingly under pressure to remain relevant in light of increasing awareness and advancements on human rights for women and men.  There are many cultural practices that are in direct conflict with some of the national and regional laws, especially those which focus on the rights of women and girls. Most cultural institutions are male dominated and promote patriarchal tendencies that have remained a major hindrance to social justice and adherence to women’s and girls’ rights.  The greatest challenge is transforming the attitudes of cultural leaders to promote the rights of women, without fear of losing their influence in their communities.

endFGM

Since 2013, FEMNET (African Women’s Development and Communication Network), the Swedish Reproductive Health Organization (RFSU), Masculinity Institute (MAIN) and the Anglican Development Services Mount Kenya East (ADMSKE) have jointly partnered to tap in to the social status and influence religious and cultural leaders to promote sexual, reproductive, health and rights – SRHR for women and girls in Meru, Tharaka Nithi and Homabay counties in Kenya.

The project engages cultural and religious leaders in mobilising and leading their communities towards ending socio-cultural practices deeply-rooted in their communities such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and wife inheritance as a strategy to promote sexual and reproductive rights for women and girls in Tharaka Nithi and Homa Bay counties, respectively.

Using FEMNET’s Men to Men Strategy, the leaders have successfully cultivated an environment for religious and cultural leaders to work together to address FGM. For example, in Meru and Tharaka Nithi, the highly esteemed cultural leaders known as Njuri Ncheke have been openly supporting alternative rites of passage and are giving a consistent message to their communities.

The project has provided a platform where religious and cultural leaders share intelligence on secret ways used in performing FGM. One such tick is the transfer of girls from one village to another to confuse the locals.  From this information, religious and cultural leaders are alert and continuously monitor the influx of non-resident girls into their neighborhoods to ensure they don’t undergo FGM. The national treasurer of the Njuri Ncheke, Mzee Mwamba from Mara, is a traditional male circumciser and gathered this intelligence:

‘One day as I was checking on the medicine used on circumcised boys, I noticed that somebody was using the herbs without my knowledge. Upon investigations, I was informed about some women who were colluding with my assistants to siphon the herbs. I later learned the women were administering the herbs on girls who had been brought in the neighborhood from other communities to undergo FGM. As a trainer of trainers on SRHR, I was embarrassed that this practice was still happening in my backyard.  I reprimanded my assistants and the women involved who later shared the tricks that they use locally to perform FGM. I have gone further to establish a team of scouts who are keeping a watchful eye on girls visiting our area to protect them from FGM. Even though the women who were stealing my herbs committed to stop the practice, I had to report them to the area Chief who is the government representative at the village level to ensure they are known to the authorities for illegal activities.’

Women remain key allies in all the efforts to eradicate FGM. Society has pushed them into believing that FGM is a source of income and status in the community. Women have been pushed to justify FGM as a cultural heritage despite the negative impact the practice has on them directly. Most of the women who mutilate these young girls don’t believe that FGM is illegal and will go an extra mile to mobilise their fellow women to allow their girls to undergo the practice.  “We can easily tell if a girl from a particular family has not been circumcised. Our cultural practice requires that after undergoing FGM, the mother to the girl must organise a dance ceremony for women in the village to  perform songs and dances in praise of the circumcised girl”,  said a woman who performs FGM. Men have continuously blamed women for performing FGM, yet they seldom publicly condemn it. This is a scapegoat used by the men to avoid taking responsibilityon FGM matters. Women should be made to understand the immediate and long term negative impacts of FGM on the girls and on women’s SRHR life.

Article 5 of the Maputo Protocol calls upon State Parties to prohibit “all forms of FGM” through legislative measures and supportive sanctions. Kenya has since come up with an anti-FGM law -“The Prohibition of the FGM Act 2011”. The Act explicitly prohibits female genital mutilation. However, the greatest challenge remains the implementation of law.  The situation gets worse at the community level as some duty bearers accept FGM as sound cultural practice.

In Kenya, the government is represented in every village by administrators who are often picked from the same community. This is aimed at ensuring that they are familiar with the people they are governing. However, they also harbor attitudes that perpetuate negative cultural practices like FGM thereby hindering efforts towards eradicating it.  A case in point is in Katwara village, where a family was free to perform FGM on their girls after paying Kshs. 6,500 (USD 70). The money is shared as follows: the area Chief and Assistant Chief get Kshs. 1,500 (USD 16) each, the village Headman gets Kshs.1,000 (USD 11) and the woman performing the cut gets Kshs. 2,000 (USD 22). When members of the community went to demand an explanation as to why the Chief as a government official was allowing the practice to continue in the village, he became indifferent.” Kila mtu ako na mtoto wake na anaweza kumfanyia kile anachotaka. Sitaki maneno yenu na mkijaribu kutuingilia tutawaroga” (Everybody has their own child and is free to do what they like. I don’t want to engage with you on question and answer anymore. I will bewitch anybody who interferes with us). The Chief has succeeded in intimidating the community members using his position in government. As a government representative in the community, it is unfortunate that he supports a practice that has been outlawed. This scenario is repeated many times over in communities and countries across Africa.

This year, the project partners have purposed to expand the stakeholders’ base to target other members of the community. In the coming months, we will be strengthening the role of women as advocates for the eradication of FGM. Men and boys will also be given a platform to openly voice and demand an end to FGM.  Additionally, the project will undertake advocacy campaigns targeting national and county governments to ensure that the existing national laws are widely known by the citizenry, and are implemented. At national level, the project will share intelligence on the tricks community members are using to procure FGM on young girls with the National Anti FGM Board. The project will work together with the National Police Service to ensure that they are properly trained to handle these cases and that  reported cases are prosecuted as a matter of public interest.  It is sad that FGM is still a problem facing us at this time and age. This is a wakeup call to all of us that a lot more is needed to truly abandon and end FGM in our generation.  There is need for concerted efforts by all – women and men, girls and boys, young and old, government and non-governmental institutions – as well as education, advocacy, outreach, political will and collaboration. This is not just a problem for the few, but for us as a people of Kenya. FGM is wrong. Protect the girl by raising your voice.

Join the campaign: #endfgm.

*Mr Otina Kennedy is the Program Associate (Regional Men to Men Program) at FEMNET.

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Today’s Girl Child; The Woman of the future!

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By Hannah Ondiek,

 FEMNET is pleased to be part of the voices celebrating the first United Nations observance of the International Day of the Girl Child, 11th October 2012 themed Ending Child Marriage. The United Nations General Assembly designated 11th October as the International Day of the Girl Child through the Resolution A/RES/66/170. UN Women is among the many organizations, initiatives and campaigns all around the world that have pledged to support and promote girls’ human rights.

The FEMNET Gender Policy refers to young women as ‘The successor generation of women leaders’. This signifies the importance of nurturing and empowering the girl child.

Across the world while a girl is learning in class, a young bride is learning to take care of her family, while a girl is catching up with school work and gaining knowledge and ideas for the future, another girl is catching up with house work as part of their daily routine, while a young girl is gaining experience on life through education another girl is going through Female Genital Mutilation – FGM, which (according to WHO) involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons to ‘make her a woman.’

© CARE International: 22 year old with 10 year old wife

Girl child Facts and Figures

Marriage:

  • Every 3 seconds, a girl is forced or coerced to marry
  • Every year, 10 million girls are forced or coerced into marriage
  • 1 in 3 girls in the developing world is married by the age of 18
  • 1 in 7 girls marries before they reach the age of 15

Education:

  • 75 million girls around the world are out of school
  • 1 in 3 girls is denied a secondary education
  • Girls’ primary school completion rates are below 50% in most poor countries
  •  while about 41% of girl’s transition to secondary school education, only 3% complete the cycle

FGM:

  • About 140 million girls and women worldwide are living with the consequences of FGM
  • FGM is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15
  • In Africa an estimated 92 million girls above the age of 10 have undergone FGM

Sexual Health and Violence:

  • 150 million girls under 18 have experienced rape or other forms of sexual violence
  • leading cause of death for young women aged 15-19 years in developing countries is pregnancy

Solutions to consider

An extra year of secondary school increases a girl’s potential income by 15 – 25%, every extra year in a mothers schooling cuts infant mortality by between 5 – 10%, an increase of only 1% in girl’s secondary education attendance adds 0.3% to a country’s GDP (Plan International). Girl child education needs to be supported and financed in Africa!

We can also take action is against violations of the Girl Childs rights! You can make you voice heard by joining initiatives for instance the EQUALITY NOW Initiative in Egypt to stop the lowering of the minimum age of marriage for girls.

Changing the situation for the girl child not only improves her life but the whole nation and future generations to come.

What future are we creating for the girl child in Africa? Join the voices celebrating the Day of the Girl Child to End Child Marriage!

For more information on Child Marriages and initiatives to prevent this, go to;

Girls Not Brides

Every Mother Counts

Care International

Let’s continue this conversation. Connect with FEMNET @femnetprog or on facebook.

Hannah Ondiek is the Communication Intern at FEMNET. You can connect with her on twitter @hannahadoyo and hannahondeik@gmail.com  

Celebrating IWD in Siha, Tanzania

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by Nebila Abdulmelik

Today, March 8th marks International Women’s Day. This day is marked in various ways around the globe. Here in Tanzania, and particularly in Siha District, Tanzania, NAFGEM or Network Against Female Genital Mutilation, supported by SOAWR organized a community march and celebration which we were honored to be a part of. This was in solidarity with the Africa UNiTE Campaign to bring an end to Violence Against Women and in the margins of the Mt. Kilimanjaro Climb taking place from March 5-9, 2012.

About 500 were in attendance, including school children, former circumcisors, activists, government officials, and well-wishers. Ages ranged from 3 to 83. Take a look at a brief video of the march:

Students presented pictoral presentations of what they consider VAW to be. Some depicted their mothers being beaten by their fathers. Others depicted the inequality of workload, depicting a mother carrying a hoe, her baby, food on her head while the husband walks idly by. Some shared their views of VAW in writing. Some of the issues mentioned include early marriage, FGM, unwanted sexual advances, and being pulled out of school as that would kill their dreams of becoming the president!

Women who were former practicioners/circumcisers of girls were also present to show their solidarity with bringing an end to the practice of FGM. Most have now begun small-scale businesses which include arts and crafts to sustain themselves.

The District Commissioner, Anna Rose Nyamubi was on hand to offer support to the women in her constituency and renew her commitment to them. Also present was a male member of Parliament representing the Siha District, and urging community members not to wait for opportunities to be given to them, but rather to grab opportunities as they come. He also reaffirmed his commitment to bring  forth and champion issues such as land and property inheritance and other VAW issues affecting the women in the district in Parliament.

Women’s groups and students performed skits, sang songs, recited poetry, and made statements urging an end to all forms of  discrimination and VAW/G. The message came out loud and clear:

“Let’s UNiTE to bring an end to VAW/G!”

For pictures from this event, please go to: FEMNET's Facebook Page

Nebila Abdulmelik is the Associate Advocacy Officer at FEMNET. She can be reached at prog-associate@femnet.or.ke. Connect with her on twitter @aliben86 or aliben86.wordpress.com

Voices of Rural Women at CSW

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FEMNET Update from New York
February 29, 2012
56th Session of the CSW
Theme: Rural Women’s Empowerment

Voices of rural women at the CSW
By Leo Wamwanduka

Today FEMNET hosted a successful side event for rural women to showcase strategies they are implementing at community and national level to promote sustainable livelihoods and economic empowerment of rural women. Grassroots women from Kenya, Cameroon, Zimbabwe and Mozambique shared some innovative ways women in rural areas are responding to livelihoods challenges in their contexts and establishing recognizable interventions that are making a difference in their own lives as well as the lives of their communities. Examples of biogas plants set up by rural women in Kenya, oil pressing ventures by women in Zimbabwe and rescuing of girls from early marriages by brave women in Cameroon animated the session and generated a lot of discussion as participants from across the globe wanted to know how rural women had developed such sophisticated enterprises to secure their livelihoods. The voices of rural women who spoke today, unanimously echoed the sentiment that rural women are capable and what they need is investment in their local initiatives, not pity.

Today also marked a momentous occasion as women discussed the recent passing of a resolution to ban female genital mutilation which is one of the most heinous violations of women’s rights in most parts of Africa. During the session it was highlighted that Hilary Clinton had pledged funds for Nairobi University to lead in research in this area and the French government had also provided funding support for widespread programs to prevent female genital cutting in areas where it was occurring. It was noted that although the issue was severe in Africa, other countries such as the USA, Egypt, Iran and Germany had pockets of their societies that still practiced this initiation practice where girls labia and clitoris are cut as part of passage rites into adulthood. Women from Kenya, Norway and the USA shared experiences on this issue and expressed hope that the ban on this practice at UN level would have an impact at country and community levels.

Leo is the Executive Director of Envision Zimbabwe Women’s Trust. He is in New York attending the 56th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

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Demystifying Media at the Grassroots: Rural Women Using Media for Change
By Bessie Madziwa

During the session organised by International Association of Women in Radio and Television
Sharon Rolls Executive Director of Femlink in the Pacific Islands emphasized the role played by community radio in her nation Fiji in engaging communications for peace building, education and gender equality. Fiji media environment has been defined by the 2006 military coup which has made it difficult for women issues to be discussed in this space. Community radio involves going to the grassroots women and girls and broadcasting a session with them rather than wait for them to listen. She highlighted that this has enabled rural women to engage in dialogue themselves, to dialogue with decision makers hence community media process has given women a chance to be heard and created space for women in the policy space. Various speakers on this shared highlighted the following critical issues:
-Communication and dialogue are part of solving local problems and therefore women should take to the microphone
-Community radio can help those with low literacy levels to make decisions about their lives as more and more women share their experiences of good practices in their areas.
-Organisations were encouraged to use theatre for social and political change

Critical recommendations that came out at this session given at the end of the session s that women are as follows
• Unless women talk about their problems they cannot be solved therefore rural women some be given a chance to speak through community media such as radio and theatre in other words communication and dialogue are part of solving the problems.
• To achieve sustainable development and work towards the recommendation of UNSCR 1325 on Women ,Peace and Security to support local women’s peace initiatives and indigenous processes for conflict resolution and involve women in all of the peace agreement implementation mechanisms, media has to capture views from grassroots women
In conclusion all women across the world should Be informed, Be involved and be Empowered

Rural elder women and the right to health
Speakers in this session organised by International Network for the Prevention of elder Abuse pointed out that, it is a fact that women generally live longer than men, are poorer than men more so when they are old and are in the rural area context. It is saddening however that issues of the elderly are often missing from events concerned with women. And yet older women are in the majority of rural women. Older women’s voices are also missing in the UN agenda for women. To say that older women are taken care of in the bracket of women is unfair and the speakers recommended that the UN should come up with specific binding human rights for older women/persons. Women have a multitasked life; even when they are old they are busy doing something .Old age makes rural women more vulnerable to violation of human rights. They face chronic poverty, economic hardships, undocumented abuse, separation from families through migration and displacement, malnutrition and social exclusion as some are labelled as witches. Ageing comes with a myriad of health issues that affect older women these include chronic diseases which require them to have special medical and family attention. The speaker reminded the audience that young women cannot afford to ignore these issues as one day they will be elderly and enjoy the same rights.

Here are some voices from older women at the session:

“l want to tell my children stories of my life but they are busy, not too interested in my legacy”

“I am lonely ,my husband is also old, has dementia. I feel isolated, ignored”

“I once was young and beautiful now l am old and have wrinkles, but l consider myself to be still beautiful. I want to celebrate my age and life and do not want to be invisible for a single second of my life”

In conclusion the strong recommendations that came out of this session are
• CEDAW general recommendation 27 is generally, older women are calling for binding resolutions that are age specific
• African culture and traditions sometimes make it a sin to be old; as you grow old the more socially excluded you become. The UN and all governments should ensure that older women have access to free health care and the attention they need.

Bessie is the coordinator of the Zvishane Water Project in Zimbabwe. She is in New York attending the 56th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women