When is “it’s just cultural” not an excuse for allowing injustice?

While helping a community emerge from extreme poverty, FH always strives to preserve that community’s unique culture and traditions. There are times, however, when traditions probably should change.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a tradition practiced mainly in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. It is widely condemned as a violation of human rights along with other gender-based injustices like child marriage and female infanticide. While types of the procedure vary from place to place, it is estimated that 130 million women alive today are living with the consequences of FGM.

While FGM is illegal in Kenya, almost 30 percent of girls and women
still undergo it. 

FH works in places where FGM is endemic, and staff members in our Child Sponsorship Program work hard to stop it.
What is FGM?
FGM also is called female genital cutting or female circumcision. It cuts the genital organs and leads to severe bleeding, problems with urination and, later in life, complications during childbirth and newborn deaths. It typically is performed on a girl under age 15 without proper sanitation or aftercare. Where FH works in Kenya, FGM is performed on girls between age 9 and 12.

In one study done by FH in 2010, 98 percent of Kenyan girls who had undergone FGM regretted it and wished they could have reversed it.

The power of tradition
Because this practice has endured for so many generations, it is seen as a necessity to raise a daughter properly — often believed to keep an unmarried girl chaste or to lessen her sexual desire. Even knowing that FGM is illegal and medically harmful usually is not enough to overcome the fear of being ostracized by others, excluded from activities and referred to as “immature.”

To not participate would bring a great deal of stigma upon a girl and her family, and mothers and elderly women fear bringing a curse down on their families should they stray from tradition.

“Only the girls whose families live outside their communities — in towns and other provinces — are able to withstand the pressure,” says Zipporah Muhoro, manager of FH’s child-development programs in Kenya.

In Kenya, it is thought that a girl who has undergone FGM is ready for marriage and will be a faithful wife. For this reason, FGM has the added consequence of increasing the school drop-out rate of girls, because they marry early.

Fathers and husbands lead the charge for change
It is refreshing, in a conversation about gender-based injustice, to be able to give credit to men who protect their daughters and wives.

FH staff work hard to educate community leaders, parents and children on the science behind the female reproductive system and the risks of FGM, highlighting Biblical values along the way, and many men have changed their minds after learning about the procedure’s damaging effects.

Any lasting change must come from within — not from pressure applied by FH staff — which is why it’s so exciting to see fathers asking their wives not to subject their daughters to the rite, and young men looking to marry girls who have not been cut. 

In Sololo, Northern Kenya, FH works with female teachers who initiated a girl-child empowerment initiative to educate and empower girls and young women in the schools. There is a long way to go, and those who resist still feel persecution, but every uncut girl means one step closer to ending this torturous practice.

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