Thursday December 13, 2018
Home Lead Story The Tale Of D...

The Tale Of Dying Dreams In The Name Of Tradition

Tony Mwebia of the Men End FGM campaign said visits to primary schools show that even as early as age 10, there are far fewer girls than boys.

0
//
FGm
Maasai girls and a man watch a video on a mobile phone prior to the start of a social event advocating against harmful practices such as female genital mutilation at the Imbirikani Girls High School in Imbirikani, Kenya. VOA
Republish
Reprint

It was during her first year of high school in rural western Kenya that Mary Kuket says she was “sacrificed to tradition” and her dreams of becoming a doctor shattered forever.

With no explanation, the 15-year-old was given away to another family, who forced her to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM), then married her off to their middle-aged son.

“I kept asking my parents why I was being taken and begged them not to send me away, but my father pushed me away, saying that soon I would understand,” Kuket, now 46, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Baringo county. “They never told me I was going to be cut. They never told me I was going to be married to a 45-year-old man. They never told me that I would not go back to school.”

From the fear of being ostracized or killed to the prestige associated with entering womanhood, girls in Kenya are under a barrage of societal pressures to undergo FGM, often with a devastating impact on their education, say campaigners.

Female Genital Mutilation, FGM
A badge reads “The power of labor against FGM” is seen on a volunteer during a conference on International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Cairo, Egypt,(VOA)

A study by the charity ActionAid Kenya published Monday said despite the fact that FGM is illegal in the east African nation, deep-rooted myths supporting the ancient ritual persist.

Violence ‘normalized’

The survey, based on interviews with almost 400 girls and women in eight Kenyan counties, found that FGM affected not only their health but also their schooling.

“Despite efforts to curb FGM, this type of violence against women and girls is so normalized in some communities. Girls are socialized into believing they must undergo the procedure,” said Agnes Kola, women’s rights coordinator for ActionAid Kenya. “But it is stifling their ability to participate in society, as once they undergo FGM, their schooling is impacted and many never complete their education and progress in life.”

Girls missed school to recover after the procedure and suffered medical complications and trauma that affected their class attendance and performance, the report said.

Female Genital Mutilation, FGM
Students arrive at the start of a social event advocating against harmful practices such as female genital mutilation at the Imbirikani Girls High School in Imbirikani, Kenya. VOA

Seen as a rite of passage in many communities, FGM also acted as a trigger for girls as young as 11 to become sexually active and married off as they were perceived as women — often ending with child pregnancy.

As a result, fewer girls than boys in Kenya’s FGM-prevalent counties were finishing their primary education, and even fewer were transitioning to high school, the study said.

While national figures show secondary enrollment of boys and girls in year one to be almost equal, in some FGM-prevalent counties, enrollment of girls in the same group is less than half that of boys, according to government data.

‘Ticket for marriage’

An estimated 200 million girls and women worldwide have undergone FGM, which usually involves the partial or total removal of the genitalia, the United Nations says.

FGM
Girls sit in the yard at Kalas Girls Primary School, Amudat District, Karamoja, Uganda, Jan. 31, 2018. They each escaped home after their families tried to force them to undergo FGM or to enter into marriage. VOA

Despite being internationally condemned, it is practiced in at least 27 African countries and parts of Asia and the Middle East, and is usually carried out by traditional cutters, often with unsterilized blades or knives.

In some cases, girls can bleed to death or die from infections. FGM can also cause lifelong painful conditions such as fistula as well as fatal childbirth complications.

Kenya outlawed the practice in 2011, but it continues as communities believe it is necessary for social acceptance and increasing their daughters’ marriage prospects.

One in five females aged 15 to 49 in Kenya has undergone FGM, according to U.N. data.

The study in eight counties found fear of being rejected for marriage, ostracized by the community or even killed was pushing girls to undergo FGM.

In the eastern county of Garissa, Muslim communities were cited as saying anyone who was not circumcised was not permitted to worship and could easily be killed.

FGM
Amran Mahamood used to circumcise young girls in Hargeysa, Somalia, but stopped after a religious leader convinced her the rite was not required by Islamic law. VOA

“Religiously, we are told that circumcision makes girls to be clean before God, and it is only after undergoing this practice that the girls can be allowed to read the Quran or to worship,” said a woman from Garissa, cited in the report.

Elsewhere, girls and women said they were expected to undergo FGM to comply with cultural expectations of marriage.

“FGM is considered as the community-given ticket for marriage, thus it results in automatic suitors or bidders, which is absolutely the parent’s choice,” said the report. “Young men will ensure their wives get circumcised at the time of marriage.”

Progress hindered

Soon after being cut, the girls, who are drawn from communities in which up to 98 percent of women and girls have undergone FGM, said they struggled to continue with school.

They were absent for weeks to heal and also suffered infections and trauma, according to the report.

Female Genital Mutilation, FGM
 A Masaai villager displays the traditional blade used to circumcise young girls August 12, 2007 in Kameli, Kenya. Maasai are a pastoral group mostly clustered in the Rift Valley. They practice circumcision on both boys and girls during puberty years as a rite of passage to adulthood. 

The practice also provides social sanction for girls to be married off or have sex, often resulting in pregnancy.

Tony Mwebia of the Men End FGM campaign said visits to primary schools show that even as early as age 10, there are far fewer girls than boys. “Sometimes it’s just one or two girls compared to a whole lot of boys,” he said.

Campaigners said government and civil society had neglected remote, insecure regions where FGM was most prevalent. They called for specific budgets to be allocated to these areas, using positive messaging to engage with communities, and for better coordination between charities.

For Kuket, however, all is not lost.

After 20 years of marriage and seven children, she went back to school, finished her secondary education and has enrolled to work toward a degree in community development.

Also Read: ‘The Restorers’: Kenyan Girls Use Technology to Combat Female Genital Mutilation

She is also a prominent human rights activist in her community in western Tangulbei, where she rescues girls who are being forced to undergo FGM and pushed into child marriage.

“I don’t want any other girl to go through what I did,” she said. “FGM is a barrier to a girl’s progress in life — it ruins their lives.” (VOA)

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2018 NewsGram

Next Story

The Attention Shifts To The U.S. As It Strikes Down FGM Law

Looking beyond the Michigan case, Jones said the key to stopping FGM isn’t just legislation but also education.

0
FILE - A T-shirt warns against female genital mutilation. Its wearer attends an event, discouraging harmful practices such as FGM, at a girls high school in Imbirikani, Kenya, April 21, 2016.Image source: VOA

When a U.S. district judge last month ruled a federal ban on female genital mutilation unconstitutional, he undercut the federal government and alarmed anti-FGM activists, who hope to eradicate the practice.

The World Health Organization calls FGM, also known as female circumcision, a human rights violation of women and girls, with no health benefits.

Some 200 million women and girls around the world, mainly in Africa, have experienced FGM, the WHO says.

In his opinion, Judge Bernard Friedman called FGM “despicable,” but also “a local criminal activity” that must be addressed at the state level. In enacting a federal law, he said, Congress overstepped.

Now, local lawmakers, advocates and newspapers are calling for state bans that equal or surpass the scope of the federal law that was struck down.

Female Genital Mutilation, FGM, judge
A badge reads “The power of labor against FGM” is seen on a volunteer during a conference on International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Cairo, Egypt, Feb. 6, 2018. (VOA)

‘Never again’

The case Friedman ruled on centers around Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, an emergency room physician accused of performing FGM on at least 100 girls in Michigan for more than a decade.

Prosecutors have focused their case on nine girls, aged 7 to 12, from three states. The girls allegedly were subjected to FGM with the aid of Nagarwala and seven others, including the girls’ mothers.

Defense attorneys say the procedure amounted to only a “nick” on the girls performed as part of a religious ritual — not FGM. But they also argued in July that the federal law banning FGM is unconstitutional.

State Senator Rick Jones, who represents Michigan’s 24th district, told VOA by phone that he was shocked to learn about Nagarwala’s case and strongly disagrees with Friedman’s ruling.

Last year, Jones became the spokesperson for a package of bills outlawing FGM statewide. The legislation passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Female Circumcision, FGM
The barbaric practice of genitalia mutilation has been banned in developed nations. Wikimedia

Now, Michigan has some of the toughest FGM laws in the country.

Health-care providers convicted of performing FGM face up to 15 years in prison, along with the permanent loss of their medical licenses. Parents who take their daughters to doctors to be cut can lose custody.

The 1996 federal law, meanwhile, stipulated up to five years in prison and fines for medical providers who perform FGM.

“We wanted to send a strong message around the world: Never again bring your girls to Michigan for this horrible procedure,” Jones said.

Across the U.S., 27 states have passed laws banning FGM, many of which have been written in recent years and include penalties that go beyond the federal law, which also criminalizes so-called “vacation cutting,” the practice of taking girls out of the United States to have FGM performed overseas.

News organizations are among those pushing for an expansion of state laws. Last month, the Seattle Times editorial board called for a ban in Washington, one of 23 states yet to outlaw FGM.

FGM
A doctor checks her phone as she poses for a photograph in Mumbai, India, June 8, 2016. The 50-year-old woman defends what is widely considered female genital mutilation within her small, prosperous Dawoodi Bohra community in India. VOA

Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times editorial board said all 50 states should ban the “barbaric” practice, in light of Friedman’s ruling.

Religious ritual?

The health-care providers and families involved in the Michigan case belong to Dawoodi Bohra, a Shi’ite Muslim sect based in India with about 2 million followers worldwide.

According to a study published earlier this year, FGM, called khafd in Dawoodi Bohra communities, is widespread in the sect and involves cutting the clitoral hood or part of the clitoris, without an anesthetic, when girls turn seven.

The study, commissioned by WeSpeakOut, an advocacy group focused on eradicating khafd, also found that three-quarters of Dawoodi Bohra women have experienced FGM.

The severity and nature of FGM can vary.

Health-care providers have identified four types of FGM. Khafd involves Type 1 FGM. Other types involve removing all of the external genitalia and narrowing the vaginal opening.

Jones rejects the idea that there’s a religious basis for the procedure, however it’s performed.

FGM
FILE – A counselor holds up cards used to educate women about female genital mutilation (FGM). VOA

“Across the world, this has been practiced by Christians, pagans, Muslims, even a small Jewish sect in Ethiopia,” he said.

“This is not about a religion,” he added. “This is about men attempting to control women’s behavior by this horrible procedure.”

The WHO identifies both short-term and permanent harms associated with the practice. Immediate concerns include severe pain, infections and, in some cases, death. Long term, women and girls subjected to FGM face a range of physiological and psychological complications that can affect menstruation, childbirth and sexual health.

The United States has been unequivocal in condemning the practice, saying “the U.S. government considers FGM/C to be a serious human rights abuse, and a form of gender-based violence and child abuse” on a fact sheet posted to the Citizenship & Immigration Services website.

Education and legislation

Friedman’s November decision is the latest in a series of setbacks for prosecutors.

Nagarwala spent seven months in 2017 in jail before 16 friends posted a $4.5 million unsecured bond, against the pleas of prosecutors, who argued Nagarwala could silence potential witnesses or even flee the country if released.

FGM
KAMELI, KENYA – AUGUST 12: A Masaai villager displays the traditional blade used to circumcise young girls August 12, 2007 in Kameli, Kenya. Maasai are a pastoral group mostly clustered in the Rift Valley. They practice circumcision on both boys and girls during puberty years as a rite of passage to adulthood. VOA

And in January, the judge dismissed charges that Nagarwala and a second doctor, Fakhruddin Attar, transported minors with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, an offense that carries a lifetime sentence.

Nagarwala still faces conspiracy and obstruction charges that could result in decades in prison.

The trial is now set to begin next April, the Detroit Free Press reported last month. However, the prosecution could appeal last month’s decision, drawing the case out further.

Also Read: Somalia Calls To Outlaw Female Genital Mutilation

Looking beyond the Michigan case, Jones said the key to stopping FGM isn’t just legislation but also education.

“What we have to do is continue to fight this worldwide. This is a global problem,” Jones said.

“It is a violation of human rights,” he said. “And I’m going to continue speaking out worldwide against this horrible, horrible practice that must end.” (VOA)