How easy is it to avoid traditional African cultural practices that have defined a community? Can national laws work where tradition has prevented traditional harmful practices from ending? Difficult questions with no easy answers.
Last weekend, the elders of the Samburu community in Kenya joined the government and vowed to stop the circumcision of their girls.
This is a great victory in Kenya’s fight against the harmful practice, which, although illegal, continues unabated due to strong traditional beliefs.
“We reaffirm our commitment to ending female genital mutilation and child marriage in our community. We are committed to protecting our women and girls from harmful cultural practices by creating awareness in our community and promoting education for the girl. We are therefore leaving the curse on uncircumcised girls and, as traditional gatekeepers, we bless all girls who have not experienced female genital mutilation and who will not suffer female genital mutilation in the future. “
In Kenya, at least one in five women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 have been circumcised, despite the fact that the East African nation banned the practice in 2011.
Among the Samburu, any girl who refuses to undergo the practice is declared an outcast.
In 2019, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta pledged to end the practice by 2022. Many saw this as an unrealistic goal at the time.
Saturday’s landmark statement is a victory in the fight against the practice of removing part or all of the female genitals, with serious health consequences.
“We are here to help the girls in Kenya to improve themselves. Today we are here to work with your parents and elders and ask them to allow the girls in Kenya alongside their male counterparts, ”says Kenyatta.
The declaration will likely apply because the Samburu are a patriarchal community and this decision was sanctioned and agreed by the men who were previously cursed and refused to marry uncircumcised girls.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) estimates that at least 4 million girls and women are at risk of female genital mutilation each year, making the global goal of ending traditional harmful practices like FGM by 2030 a pipe dream.
Kenya now hopes with Saturday’s statement that it is getting closer to its own goal of protecting its girls and women from harmful traditional practices by 2022.