Tuesday, December 22, 2009

On Female Circumcision (FGM) in Kenya/Tanzania

As you may know, the project in which I was participating in Kenya was supposed to have had a focus on Female Genital Mutilation (called female circumcision in Kenya) and early marriage, i.e. the cultural practice wherein girls are married at very young ages to older men. As it turned out, the project had nothing to do with those practices. More on that later.

The area in which I was working is called Kuria, after the people who populate it. Kenya has dozens of different tribal identities, and Kuria people are found in the southwest of the country, in an area that spans the border with Tanzania. About 2/3 of Kuria people live in Tanzania, and about 1/3 live in Kenya. Although some Kenyan tribes don't practice female circumcision, among the Kuria it is a very strongly held cultural tradition. In that area of the country, the prevalence rate is believed to be over 90%. The good news is that the tradition seems to be slowly waning, and is not as common or accepted among the younger generation. I met many women who said that the practice stops with them; that they will not subject their daughters to it, although they themselves were circumcised. It is very easy to criticize the practice of FGM, especially if you do not understand the cultural context, and hard to understand how difficult it is for women and girls in these communities who counter tradition. Women and girls who resist FGM face enormous pressure and censure from their families and their communities. They may be shunned, or become victims of violence or other human rights abuses. Here is an ARTICLE about the cultural forces at work among the Kuria (here spelled Kurya) people in Tanzania, and how some women are resisting FGM, forced marriage, and other cultural traditions that violate their rights and their endanger their health.

In related news, the Ugandan Parliament officially OUTLAWED FGM on December 15th of this year. Mind you, FGM is illegal in many countries, including Kenya, yet still widely practiced. But having a law on the books, and stiff penalties, is of course an important step.

(links to articles are in caps)

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