Health AreasMaternal & Child Health

Why are we ‘cutting’ babies? Girls and women too need protection

With every newborn baby a little sun rises.

However, in this community, when a baby girl is born, it presents the perfect opportunity for the matriarchs to ‘welcome’ her ‘in style’. When Tania gave birth to her daughter a month ago, her house and heart were full of love. Baby Riziki brought joy and there were plenty of hands to rock her to sleep. But the warm grandmotherly hands had other intentions.

Tania would leave the baby with her mother and aunties and retire to her room to catch-up on the much-needed sleep. However, she noticed that whenever Riziki was having a diaper change, she would let out a loud, sharp, piercing cry. A closer look at her baby broke her heart!

The stains and betrayal

There were blood stains on her diaper. One look at her mother and aunties, and tears ran down her eyes. They had betrayed her trust. They had turned a deaf ear to her incessant talks. The grandmothers had conspired and circumcised her daughter against her will. She got hold of her daughter and locked-up herself in her bedroom. She had failed to protect her daughter. Her family had failed her once again.

This brought back memories when she was nine years old. Her mother had held her down on the earthen floor and the traditional circumcisor had cut her and proclaimed her ‘a woman’ She was in pain for another four weeks and she swore never to allow any of her daughters to go through the harrowing experience.

Tania picked up her daughter and called the pediatrician, explaining the events of that morning. The doctor asked that they meet in hospital to examine the baby further. She called her husband who sent a taxi to take them to hospital. When the young couple was back, the women were long gone. Riziki was placed on antibiotics and painkillers to prevent infection and to manage the pain respectfully. Tania called her mother and forgave her.

Changing trends

Interestingly, this is one of the emerging trends to escape the wrath of the anti-FGM champions and the law. There has also been a reduction in the number and magnitude of FGM ceremonies, especially those involving all community members and a change of the cutting season.

Tania recollected the events of two decades ago.

When she turned eight years old, her aunty and grandmother called her aside and discussed about becoming a respectful girl in the community. Tania followed keenly. As the cups of tea were served that evening, Tania was informed that she would not be going to school the following morning. She was going on an early morning journey with her aunty and eight other girls to hinterland. She was excited. Trips rarely came in the middle of the week.

When the first rays of the sun came out, she set off with her aunty and peers. After four hours of trekking through the woods, the sounds of drums welcomed them to Vimingo, the village that would host them for the next few days. Songs and dance filled the air and women in colourful regalia welcomed them with baskets of fruits. The night was long as the music continued till the small hours of the morning. At the first cock-crow, Tania and her peers were taken to the river where they bathed before they were led to a hut where three women held each of them to the earthen ground and circumcised them. The pain was appalling, their minds were distressed. Recovery for the next four weeks was horrendous. Tania swore never to put any of her daughters through such agony.

One day at a time

Sadia Hussein is an FGM survivor and an anti-FGM champion who coordinates Dayaa women’s group to create awareness on the dangers of FGM. She has brought to the table, the men in her community, religious leaders and the women. She has also not forgotten to speak to the girls to explain that FGM has no place in the community today.

Sadia Hussein – An anti-FGM champion and coordinator at Dayaa Women’s Group who is passionate about saving the lives of women and girls

“You earn respect in the community through other ways than going through harmful practices like FGM. A man should love and honour you to ask for your hand in marriage without expecting you to be circumcised,” she tells the young girls in Tana River County.

Sadia is optimistic that by speaking out, the young generation will play a key role in ensuring that FGM is not practiced on their daughters.

What is FGM?

Female Genital Mutilation comprises all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons. It is a violation of the human rights of girls and women. Health workers are also performing FGM on women and girls based on a popular misconception that it is less painful and reduces infection risks. A study in 2014 showed that 15% of medical professional cut girls and women in Kenya.

FGM can have both immediate and long-term health risks. They include;

Immediate complications

  • Severe pain
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Genital tissue swelling
  • Fever
  • Infections like tetanus
  • Urinary problems
  • Wound healing problems
  • Injury to surrounding genital tissue
  • Shock
  • Death.

Long-term implications

  • Urinary problems
  • Vaginal problems
  • Menstrual problems
  • Scar tissue and keloids
  • Sexual problems
  • Increased risk of childbirth complications

Felister Gitonga, a programme officer at Equality Now focusing on ending harmful practices like FGM is calling for more concerted efforts, including speaking out on FGM even when done by health workers.

“We must also speak to the role that our medical care givers play in abetting or ending FGM given that we are increasingly seeing a growing trend in the medicalization of FGM. It is therefore time for medical practitioners’ bodies such as FIGO and AFOG to take a stand against FGM and condemn doctors abetting the practice,”

The influence of border countries/communities on the continuity of harmful practices like FGM cannot be ignored. The 2017 UNICEF study on FGM and child marriage showed that 71% of respondents from Uganda, 14% from Somalia, 60% from Ethiopia and 17% from Tanzania have visited Kenya for FGM services. Additionally, 54% of surveyed women from Ethiopia, 50% from Somalia and 22% from Uganda have visited Kenya at least three times to seek FGM services.

“Our desire to end cross-border FGM will not be realized unless the issue is contextualized to governments on the basis of the regional blocs that they are a part of. For instance, interventions to end cross border FGM in the East African region should involve the governments of Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya while in West Africa Mali and Burkina, The Gambia and Senegal can work together,” Felister added.

Felister noted that regional blocks like the ECOWAS, EAC, and SADC can play a unique role in addressing FGM matters within their members’ jurisdictions because laws and policies emanating from this regional blocks can speak to states’ responsibilities in protecting women and girls against harmful cultural practices.

Are you abetting FGM? Speak out and let us save a girl’s life. Her future is in your hands.

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