You are here
'It is my prayer that this practice is soon a thing of the past'
Mothers’ Union members are fighting to stop female genital mutilation and other forms of violence against women in their communities
UN Women* says every 10 minutes, somewhere in the world, an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence. And Unicef’s** research has found that 44 million victims of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) around the world are aged 14 or younger, and the majority of girls who had their genitals mutilated were cut before they were five years old. As these statistics reflect, for many women their experience of violence begins at a young age. Mothers’ Union is working hard across the world to challenge negative gender attitudes so that the cycle of violence stops and the next generation of boys and girls grow up safe from the threat of violence. The International Day of the Girl Child is on 11 October and, on this day, Mothers’ Union members around the world join together in calling for the protection and promotion of girls’ rights and a reduction in the gender inequalities that still exist between girls and boys.
FREEDOM FROM HARM
One of the biggest threats to the girl-child in some African countries is FGM . Campaigning charity 28 Too Many reports that FGM affects up to three million girls a year, equivalent to one every 10 seconds. According to UN Women, 133 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where the practice is more common. However, there are signs of hope and progress with UN Women also reporting that the chance of a girl being cut today is a third lower than it was 30 years ago. There is still much to be done though, and Mothers’ Union members have taken up this mantle. In Kenya, Mothers’ Union members have been working for many years with young girls rescued from FGM, as well as campaigning for an end to the practice. Members in Nakuru have established safe houses for girls who have run away from their families in fear of FGM. These houses provide a safe place to live under the care of Mothers’ Union members. For some girls their stay is only temporary as Mothers’ Union are able to work with their families and facilitate reconciliation. Some girls, though, are unable to return home and remain in the safe house being cared for by Mothers’ Union and completing their education.
FGM is practised for a variety of reasons, one of which is that it is seen as a rite of passage of entry into adulthood. Members in Kitale and many other dioceses in Kenya have been working closely with community leaders to change mindsets and beliefs around harmful cultural practices such as FGM, seeking non-harmful rite of passage alternatives instead that are still culturally acceptable. In a society where discussions around sex, pregnancy and childbirth are taboo, Mothers’ Union members are really stepping out by ensuring these issues are discussed.
Mothers’ Union work contributed to the introduction of a law in Kenya in 2011 that made the practice of FMG illegal. However, the work did not stop here as Mothers’ Union in Kenya recognised that the presence of a law alone would not stop the practice in communities, especially those in the remote rural areas. There was, and still is, a need to change endemic cultural attitudes, especially among traditional community leaders, to ensure the eradication of the practice. Following the death of a young girl, who died as a result of excessive bleeding after undergoing FGM, Mothers’ Union in Kajiado has taken up the cause and initiated a number of projects to tackle the issue locally. Although they have met with some resistance from community leaders, their persistence has paid off and some communities are now beginning to completely turn their back on the practice.
Salome, Mothers’ Union Community Development Coordinator, writes, ‘the culture is still deep rooted; however, through Mothers’ Union, some are now coming to realise the dangers. It is my prayer that this practice on our girls will soon be a thing of the past especially with the anti-FGM law which is in place in our country now.’ During school holidays Mothers’ Union hold special events for teenagers, especially the girls, to talk to them about their bodies, reproductive health and the dangers of FGM. The young girls then share this with communities through songs and drama to help raise awareness of FGM. Mothers’ Union members have also been trained in order to act as agents of change in the community – working alongside community leaders to identify non-harmful alternatives to FGM.
FGM is only one of the many forms of violence that young girls encounter across the world. Mothers’ Union in Rwanda has identified a particular problem with girls being threatened by male teachers who ask for sex in return for higher grades. Many of the girls are too afraid to report this abuse because when they do many do not believe them and they are stigmatised. Mothers’ Union, Fathers’ Union and the church youth department are working together to tackle this issue with one activity being raising awareness of the need for parents to talk openly with their children about sex.
In South Sudan, Mothers’ Union members are active in working closely with other civil society organisations as well as the government’s Ministry of Social Development and Religious Affairs on issues of advocacy relating to the rights of women and children. In the Diocese of Torit for example Mothers’ Union members have been actively campaigning against the practice of ‘girl child compensation’. Among some tribes in South Sudan it is still common practice to ‘compensate’ the family of someone who has been killed by giving them a young girl. When Mothers’ Union members witnessed this taking place in a village near Torit town, they visited the police station and town mayor to peacefully demonstrate against this practice. They also went to the media to raise awareness on the issue and there is a now a Parliamentary Motion being taken forward to debate the elimination of this practice. Members hope and pray that a law banning this practice will be introduced and implemented soon.
* The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women
Written by Nicola Lawrence and first published in Mothers' Union's Families First magazine in July/August 2016