FGM is often thought of as a women’s issue but although girls and women undergo FGM, this harmful practice affecting millions of girls and women worldwide should be a matter of great concern to all of us. Therefore we are pleased to share this guest blog calling on men to take part in the campaign to end FGM by Geoffrey Otieno. Geoffrey works in the media industry in Kenya as a reporter, presenter and producer. He is currently guest relations officer and social media editor for a religious international radio organization.
Did you know that on the day when the real men stand up and say no to FGM it will be on that day when we will say a final RIP to Female Genital Mutilation? I will tell you why I hold this opinion.
I was born and raised in Kenya under the traditions and culture of the Luo community and we traditionally believe that when the head of family stands up and says no on a family matter that should be the final decision. My country Kenya has over 40 ethnic communities with great cultural diversity but there is very little difference when you look at the marriage set up and across all communities it is the man who is traditionally regarded as head of the family. This is reflected in our modern society and in all religions.
Perhaps you are wondering why I am explaining this traditional family set up and so I will now tell you. I was recently shocked to read the recent 28 Too Many report on the status of FGM in Kenya, which details that FGM is still practiced in 28 African countries and Kenya is one of those countries. Although according to the report we have recorded a prevalence drop of around 10 % over the last 10 years, this is far from enough because nothing should be stopping us from recording a 100% drop. As I talked to people about why FGM continues in Kenya, some people told me this was a women’s issue. However, as I explained before, our tradition is for the man to be the head of the family and that when it comes to decision making process he has the final word. Therefore I believe that men must take responsibility for allowing FGM to go on because just like other family matters decisions to carry out FGM on girls are taken in a family set up where men are decision makers. We should all be ashamed that FGM continues even though we know the pain and suffering it causes. Even though Kenya has enforced legislation banning FGM many people still carry on cutting their daughters, holding ceremonies in secret and ignoring the law. The subject of FGM was also taken to the United Nations General Assembly in December 2012 and they passed a unanimous resolution to ban FGM. Why did it have to get to this level? It is like exposing your family affairs to the general public. I am not in any way trying to dismiss this great move and work being done internationally to end FGM. Instead I believe that we have failed as the men and women of Kenya should have said no to FGM and ended it long ago.
In the negotiations and acceptance of dowry payment in our traditional wedding practice, the man openly takes a lead role in the talks about what kind of dowry they want. However, I am really puzzled that when it comes to FGM the role of men is not given a lot of emphasis and instead much more attention is given to role of women, forgetting that in many cases they are simply enforcing an order from the girl’s father.
Traditionally FGM was a rite of passage to prepare a girl for marriage; this was before we were made aware of the health risk factors like HIV, birth complications, heavy bleeding that can lead do death, tetanus and difficulty in urination among others. It is very sad that some people still regard this as a rite of passage and insist on FGM for their daughters, saying it is necessary for a good marriage. As I have researched the situation regarding FGM in Kenya I have tried to find out if there have been reported cases of husbands returning their wives to their families after discovering that they didn’t have FGM but I am yet to find any. In the community where I come from we are neighbors with the Kisii ethnic group where FGM cases have been reported. There are marriages between the Kisii community and its neighbors and I know of some of these but I have never heard of problems about whether or not the women have had FGM. Perhaps such things are kept secret but I hope that good marriages are showing that FGM is not necessary and that as more people see this they will choose to stop.
Enough of that, now let’s shift our attention on how do we involve men to say no to FGM. My first suggestion would be to increase the involvement of men in anti FGM campaigns and we stop making it look like it’s just a matter for women. Men should be encouraged to take lead roles in the planning and running of campaigns to educate other men. The campaigns need to run in tandem with reproductive health education seminars for men where FGM will also be part of the agenda.
The next way will be to enforce the strict laws and policies against FGM and whenever a mother is found to be taking their daughter for FGM, the father of the child should also be arrested and charged for breaking the law just like the mother because the men are often the highest authority in the decision making process.
The governments should support rescue centers in areas where FGM is rampant and strongly ensure all the prevention policies are fully implemented. Men should also be allowed to work in these centers and be publicly supporting girls and women who say no to FGM.
Many of our harmful or unnecessary cultural practices have already become obsolete and this is attributed to the increase in the literacy levels, health education and other learning. For example, in my culture a woman was not allowed to eat some parts of a hen or a rooster. It was always the man who served everyone at the table when this delicacy cooked and he was only allowed to serve the women the neck, wings or the legs while the men eat the rest. We now know this is not right and ignore this tradition. Therefore if more and more education is done on the dangers of FGM, including putting it in the school curriculum, the society will be in a better position to join the campaigns against FGM and drop this practice
What is pleasing is to me now is that FGM is no longer a matter just for woman or a secret family affair. It is being discussed on open platforms like this one and I hope this continues because information can be shared widely and much can be archived so that information is also passed to future generations. The other progress I am pleased to see is a decline in the resistance to anti FGM campaigns which means that education and awareness on FGM is working. We need to continue the campaigns until everyone has said no to FGM.
Let me conclude with these powerful words spoken by Mrs Wanjohi during an IRIN Gender Forum held in Kampala Uganda in October 2011. “Real change must start at home. If a boy sees his father treating his sisters and mother with respect, he will pick up on it; if he sees his father beating his mother up, there's a much higher chance that he too will be abusive."
It is time for Men to say No and then we will all say RIP to FGM.