Photo/Illutration Peter Kemei, founding member and head of operations for Men End FGM. (Photo by Evans Habil)

Kenya’s former President Uhuru Kenyatta made history during the 2019 Nairobi Summit on International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) when he pledged to end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) by 2022. According to UNICEF, about four million girls and women in Kenya have undergone FGM; 21 percent of girls and women aged 15 to 49 have been subjected to the practice.

Yet despite widespread efforts, FGM is still being practiced in parts of Kenya. In those places, the number of forced early marriages among young girls has gone up, along with health complications resulting from the procedure.

Awareness campaigns by state and non-state actors doggedly persist however, reaching out to men, elders, even motorcycle taxi drivers. Below are some of the most notable ongoing efforts.

Campus Dialogues Men End FGM Foundation, an organization that lobbies stakeholders to prevail upon men to join the fight against FGM, has launched Campus Dialogues, or #TubongeNaComrades, to sensitize male university students to the harmful effects of FGM.

The inaugural session took place at the University of Embu in October 2022, with students learning about types of FGM; the prevalence of the practice; its effects on girls and women, including enjoyment of marital relationships; and what constitutes an offense under the 2011 Anti-FGM Act. Other sessions have taken place at technical and vocational schools or are part of training programs.

“These students command a lot of respect and influence in their respective communities, which is very instrumental in helping win the war on FGM and sexual and gender-based violence,” says Peter Kemei, head of operations at the Men End FGM Foundation, which plans to extend the campaign to all 22 “FGM hotspot” counties in Kenya.

In October 2022, UNICEF and Kenya’s Anti-FGM Board launched Pasha, a mobile app that makes it easy to report FGM cases. Using text or voice mail, callers may reach government agencies, including the Anti-FGM Board, who will then take the appropriate action. Callers may opt to share their location yet remain anonymous.

The app is already being used in Kuria and Samburu, two areas with a high prevalence of FGM. Bernadette Loloju, CEO of the Anti-FGM Board, termed it a game changer when speaking at the launch of the app in Samburu County. “I urge local residents to put the app to good use to save girls in distress. Our girls now face the triple threat of teenage pregnancies, HIV and Aids along with harmful practices like FGM. These must all be addressed.”

HeForShe Launched by the United Nations in 2014, HeForShe is a global solidarity campaign for the advancement of gender equality. It seeks to marshal men’s support for women and girls to achieve equality by encouraging all genders to be agents of change and to take action against negative stereotypes and behaviors. In Kenya, it encourages boys and men to protect their sisters and daughters from harmful cultural practices such as FGM.

State and non-state actors are increasingly using the campaign to engage communities. Among them is Mary Immaculate Girl Child Education Rescue Center in Suguta Mar-Mar, Samburu County, run by Sister Teresa Nduku, from the Immaculate Sisters of Nyeri. She says that the program has already reached 120 boys from neighboring schools since its launch in January 2022. “We want the boys to learn early that it is wrong to subject a girl to mutilation and marry her off while she is still a child.” She says that once they obtain the necessary funds, they will roll out the initiative across the county.

Elders turning elders into anti-FGM champions is another key strategy in Kenya’s fight to end FGM in Kenya. The fact that they are the custodians of culture and advise which practices should be upheld makes their support crucial. To date, elders in West-Pokot, Marsabit, Samburu, Elegeyo-Marakwet and Narok counties have denounced the practice and have joined forces with the Kenyan government to eradicate it.

The most notable are the Samburu elders, who last March agreed to end FGM and child marriage by signing the Kisima Declaration in the presence of former President Uhuru Kenyatta. The elders came from the six sacred mountains of Samburu to show their commitment to fighting FGM and lifted the cultural curse traditionally imposed on girls who do not undergo the procedure. The curse has been one of the drivers of FGM, but now girls can refuse genital mutilation without being ostracized or banned from cultural celebrations, rites and other activities. The declaration took place at Kisima grounds, a sacred site among the Samburu.

“We must respect culture, and in doing so, we must also evaluate the practices that harm girls and embrace those that are of value. We must adopt alternative rites of passage that teach respect for elders and life values without causing girls harm,” said Kenyatta.

Kenya’s Ministry of Public Service and Gender has spearheaded a campaign that targets the people who perform illegal FGM with the objective of turning them into anti-FGM crusaders. The strategy involves the National Government Affirmative Action Fund (NGAAF), which assists them in transitioning to other economic activities. Thanks to these efforts, a number of circumcisers in Tana River, Garissa and Marsabit counties have abandoned the trade, with some speaking out against the practice in their communities.

Yet other outreach efforts target religious leaders, whose influence in the community is a valuable asset, and even boda boda operators—motorcycle taxi drivers who are trained to promptly rescue girls at risk and to report cases to the authorities.

In spite of this multipronged approach, Kenya is far from realizing Kenyatta’s goal of total eradication. A 2022 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) released in January by Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows that the incidence of FGM declined by six percent during the previous eight years—similar to declines noted over the same time periods since 1998.

One of the biggest impediments to progress is cross-border FGM, with parents and elders spiriting girls to neighboring countries to avoid prosecution, which carries a minimum punishment of three-year imprisonment and a 200,000 Kenyan schilling ($1,600 or 210,000 yen) fine.

Loloju says that FGM is rampant in some of these countries, and that in turn is hampering progress in Kenya. “Cross-border FGM is real, but my team, together with security agencies, is on the ground to ensure the border is secure,” said Loloju.

Domitila Chesang’, founder of I-Am Response Foundation, an organization campaigning against FGM and child marriages in Kenya’s West Pokot, says cross-border practices are rife in the region. “The only way to eliminate cross-border FGM is by putting up police stations at the border points. The stations must also have gender desks to handle cases related to gender violence,” she said. She also blamed bad road networks for making it difficult to undertake proper surveillance.

Kenya and four other East African countries (Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Somalia) have endorsed a regional plan to eliminate cross-border FGM, but it will be an uphill battle given the prevalence of the practice in these countries (ranging from 3 percent in Uganda to 98 percent in Ethiopia). According to UNICEF, these five countries account for about 25 percent or 48.5 million of circumcised girls and women globally.


This article is being published as part of “Towards Equality”, an international and collaborative initiative gathering 15 international news outlets to highlight the challenges and solutions to reach gender equality. The Asahi Shimbun is participating in this campaign spearheaded by Sparknews.

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