Society / Education
Tuesday, 30 Aug 2016 16:07 EATwmwaniki@kenyafreepress.com
Kenya has fought female circumcision for decades, yet the practice refuses to die away. The practice, commonly referred to as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), involves the physical alteration of the female genitalia, from symbolic pricking to the cutting of the clitoris and also the sewing of the genitalia to a smaller whole.
While FGM has been identified as one of the major obstacles on the path towards women empowerment, and has been made illegal, some communities have held tight to it for reasons of cultural traditions. In June, three women were convicted by a court in Trans Mara, Narok County, for undergoing FGM. The three, Janet Towet, Miriam Tanui, and Sharon Bii from Kapwera Village in Trans Mara East Sub County, were said to have been circumcised on Nov 24, 2014.
The women, who were sentenced to three years imprisonment, asked for forgiveness and said that they underwent the rite due to pressure from community members. However much the practice is being fought, some communities like the Maasai, who hold it as an important part of their culture, want to retain it.
According to the Maasai community, women who do not undergo the practice lack authority in life. There is also a prevalent perception there that women who are not circumcised are more promiscuous, so the practice acts to curb unfaithfulness and early pregnancies.
Communities that practice FGM have diverse defences for the choices, but the government together with women’s rights campaigners, having identified the practice as a challenge to the development of women, have come together to fight it. As seen from the previous results, the methods used by the government haven't been effective, and there are tens of thousands of girls still being circumcised in Kenya each year.
With communities such as the Maasai and Pokot where the practice is so rampant, a different approach is required to curb FGM. Members of the community should be motivated by being enlighted about the dangers of female circumcision instead of victimizing those who undergo the act and making them more miserable.
At the same time, campaigners should integrate other social goals in their efforts, since FGM is normally not the biggest developmental challenge in those communities. In this regard an important project was launched in West Pokot this week that will see more than 60,000 children who are supposed to be in school but are not due to retrogressive practices and insecurity brought back to learning centres.
The education campaign dubbed “Bring back out of school children” will take two years, and it aims to address numerous social ills from child labour to education rights and FGM. The project will cost Sh204 million, of which UNICEF, the UN’s children rights agency, has contributed Sh94 million. The NGO World Vision will put in Sh110 million.
Speaking during the project’s launch in Kapenguria Town, World Vision Manager in West Pokot Titus Kaprom said the campaign will target children aged between 8 to 13. Uwezo Kenya, an NGO working in education rights, estimates that more than 60,000 Pokot children are out of school.
The campaign will rely on local administrators such as Chiefs, village elders, religious leaders, opinion leaders, media, teachers, CBOS local administrators and other partners, Kaprom said. The official asked county and national governments to meet the needs of the children who will benefit from the project by providing school fees and improving infrastructure in public schools, which form the bedrock of education in West Pokot.
The official said the campaign will be done door to door hence urged the government to improve the infrastructure. “We know children are affected with issues of disability, distance to school, lack of school fees among others,” he said.
The project’s manager Beril Auma called for strict enforcement of child rights in marginalized areas, saying that weak law enforcement had allowed vices like child labour, defilement, female genital mutilation and early marriages to go unreported.
West Pokot county commissioner Wilson Wanyanga was the chief guest at the launch. He called on all actors to give education a chance saying the government will enforce the law to ensure that every child got a chance to attend school.
“We should mobilize ourselves as actors, put our energies together and address challenges hence mobilize resources to support our children,” said Wanyanga, who asked all chiefs in the county to form committees that will help children enrollment in schools and give education a priority.
“We cannot champion development agenda and have public participation without education,” Wanyanga emphasized. Such motivating calls, if sustained by community members who have grown in those areas, can be quite empowering.
Those who have escaped being in such vices can be powerful advocates for change. Otherwise, there are many nuances to every problem that the government can’t address through one method, such as enforcement of anti-FGM laws.
For instance, while FGM is believed to make girls drop out of school, a contradicting situation is experienced in Baringo where research by the National Coordinating Agency for Population and Development indicates that there are more female teachers than male ones in primary schools.
Winfred is a student of journalism studies at the Technical University of Kenya currently on internship at the Kenya Free Press, specialising in education matters.