The East African
Community-focused initiatives are proving effective in reducing the incidence of female genital cutting in Kenya and a few other African countries, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) says in a new report.
Efforts that address cultural and social dimensions of the practice have yielded better results than have blanket condemnations or appeals aimed at individuals, Unicef finds.
The report cites an eight-year-old project in Mosocho in Kisii Central District as having created “a safe environment that supports individuals to make their own decisions to abandon [female genital cutting], free from judgment and social pressure.”
Organisers have sought to involve all segments of the Mosocho community in the project, with emphasis on participation by boys and men.
In 2005, Unicef notes, almost 50 former practitioners taking part in the German-sponsored project took an oath promising never to cut girls again.
The practice had been “almost universal” among the Kisii, and was usually performed on girls between the ages of three and eight, the report says.
About 98 per cent of ethnic Somali girls in Kenya also undergo genital cutting, but among other groups, such as the Luo and Luhya, it is done rarely or not at all, Unicef observes.
“Prevalence rates, type of cutting and age of cutting vary significantly” in Kenya, the report adds. It attributes the differences to “the range of cultural traditions and diversity found within Kenya’s numerous ethnic groups.”
Overall, 27 per cent of Kenyan females ages 15 to 49 have undergone some form of the cut, the report says, citing data from the 2008-09 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey.
That proportion is the lowest among five African countries. In Senegal, 28 per cent of women in the same age group have been cut, with the figure for Egypt put at 91 per cent, for Ethiopia 74 per cent and for Sudan 89 per cent.
Efforts to discourage female genital cutting began in Kenya more than a century ago, the report notes. It says Christian missionaries denounced as “barbaric” a practice that came to be banned by colonial authorities.
The prohibition triggered cultural and nationalist resistance, however, which sharply limited its impact.
“Medical complications related to the practice are at times not brought to the attention of health services for fear of prosecution,” the report says.
“Furthermore, the trend towards fewer public ceremonies has led to concerns that the practice has been driven underground.”
Unicef makes clear its commitment to helping put an end to female genital cutting, which it also defines as a form of mutilation.
But Gordon Alexander, the director of the organisation’s research unit, acknowledges “there is no one answer, no one way, and no quick fix.”
Pointing to initiatives such as the Mosocho project in Kenya, he adds, “These efforts need to be scaled up to bring change.”