Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a harmful practice which includes all procedures that involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons (WHO, 2014). FGM usually causes severe pain, bleeding infection, infertility, complications in childbirth and even death, an act which amounts to gender inequality and a form of gender-based violence. (United Nations General Assembly 2012).
According to UNICEF, more than 125 million women and girls have undergone FGM globally with over 3 million more at risk yearly. Across the African continent where FGM is most prevalent, rates vary by country with Egypt being the world’s highest total number with over 27.2 million women having undergone FGM (equivalent to 91% prevalence), while Somalia has the highest recorded prevalence rate at 98%.
Further data suggests that at least 21% of women in Kenya have undergone the painful procedure (Plan International). The report by the humanitarian non-governmental organisation went further to state that the prevalence varies widely with 11% of women within the ages of 15 to 19 years undergoing the procedure while 40% of women within ages 45 to 49 years are subjected to the mutilation. Since Kenya banned the practice in 2011, FGM is now increasingly conducted underground, secretly in homes or in clinics by healthcare providers and related workers.
In order to curb this act, the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act, 2011 (FGM Act, 2011) came into effect on the 4th of October 2011 as the principal legislation governing FGM in Kenya. It is a federal act criminalizing all forms of FGM, regardless of the age or status of a girl or woman.
Other countries have also put measures in place to reduce the prevalence of the FGM. For instance, in the Republic of Benin, under the Law on Repression of the Practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), 2003, alleged perpetrators of FGM could spend between 6 months and 3 years in prison and a fine of 100,000 to 2,000,000 Francs.
The case is also similar in Tanzania where this act is prohibited under the Child Act of 2009 where persons found guilty of FGM shall be liable to a fine of not less than five hundred thousand shillings or to imprisonment for a term of six months or to both.
There is widespread agreement that considerable work lies ahead, particularly to raise awareness on why this harmful custom should be abolished. Communities are gradually letting go of this form of gender-based violence (GBV) while striking a balance between cultural values and global development.
With various countries having legislations in place with punishment and fines meted on offenders, it is hope that these will help in promoting gender equality and protect the rights and dignity of the girl child and womanhood.