Creating the Talk: Anti-Female Genital Mutilation Movements in Kenya after the Anti-FGM Act

Friday, 20 July 2018: 08:30
Oral Presentation
YoungEun NAM, Purdue University, USA
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a widely practiced form of gender-based violence in 28 countries across Africa, with considerable variation in prevalence by country. For example, in Kenya the percentage of women undergoing FGM has evinced a slow but consistent decline, whereas in some countries in West Africa, more than 90% of women remain subjected to this harmful cultural practice (UNICEF).

Kenya provides a fruitful context for examining the success of the local anti-FGM movement and could provide a template for other transnational women’s movements. The intersectional collaboration of both local and international movements in Kenya led to enactment of the “Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act” in 2011. The Kenyan government was also the first to establish a semi-autonomous agency, “The Anti-FGM Board,” to advocate against FGM while empowering women.

Despite these positive changes, FGM is centered in rural locations in Kenya, rendering enforcement of the ant-FGM Act challenging. FGM is largely perpetuated by “community leaders:” traditional, non-bureaucratic decision-making bodies composed of elderly male authority figures. Moreover, because people in rural areas are largely unaware of the anti-FGM Act, law enforcers working against FGM commonly encounter resistance.

The research explores two questions: How do national level policy and activism affect grassroots level activities? Second, how are community leaders intervening in the anti-FGM movement? The project analyzes data from 20 in-depth interviews conducted with members of the Kuria, Kalenjin, and Maasai tribes in Kenya in 2017. These interviews with eight FGM survivors, ten runaways, and two FGM practitioners, explore women’s reactions to the local anti-FGM movement and national policy.

Findings indicate that women are exposed to contradictory messages. Uncircumcised women encounter slut-shaming from community elders, whereas circumcised women encounter guilt-shaming from activists. The study suggests that anti-FGM discourse must attend to local contexts to be successful.