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Table 4 Kenya – the intersectionality between tradition, culture and human rights

From: Debating medicalization of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): learning from (policy) experiences across countries

Kenya witnessed a gradual decline in prevalence of FGM/C from 38% in 1998 to 21% in 2014 (KDHS 2014). However, over the same time the rates of medicalization have been on the rise, increasing from 34% in 1998 to 41% in 2008–09, followed by a subsequent drop in 2014 [3]. More worrying are the rates of medicalization of FGM/C of girls as facilitated by their parents in Kenya which is reported to be 20% [40]. Kenya has taken steps towards criminalizing FGM/C, which is evidenced by the various policies and laws passed in the recent past such as the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act 2011 and the Child Act policy. However, there are a number of challenges that Kenya has faced with regard to the implementation of these laws and policies. For example, on 13th June 2014, after some perpetrators of FGM/C were arrested [43], more than 500 agitated women from the Maasai community held a protest at a shopping center in Kajiado Central, advocating for FGM/C and calling for the government to allow them to practice FGM/C. The women demonstrated against the enforcement of the law in their county after the arrest of the parents of a 13 year-old girl who died in a botched traditional FGM/C procedure. The protesters cited the Kenyan Constitution, which provides for the protection of cultural and traditional rights and subsequently their right to practice FGM/C viewed as an age-old custom that is believed to be necessary for womanhood. Such cases begin to raise concerns about the need to sensitize and create awareness among members of communities that practice FGM/C about harmful practices and how they infringe on girls and women’s rights to bodily and mental integrity. Communities need to de- and re-construct social norms in order to make progress in achieving the SDGs.
One of the latest challenges that has captured both local and international attention is the recent court case, filed by a Kenyan, female medical doctor petitioning the High Court to overturn the law that outlaws FGM/C in Kenya. The medical doctor argued against the term ‘mutilation’ which she viewed as a ‘misnomer’, and reiterated “female circumcision was part and parcel of African cultural practices before colonialism, and as such should not be made illegal”. She added, “[ …] once you reach adulthood there is no reason why you should not make that decision”. She argued that “legalizing female circumcision will make it easy for those who want to undergo it to seek the best medical services, thus making the procedure safe” [44]. In her discussion, she also justified the medicalization of the practice by saying that “female circumcision [ …] can be made safe arguing that it is a minor surgical procedure that does not require anesthesia or being put into a theater” [44]. It demonstrates that FGM/C is a practice based on cultural beliefs and deeply embedded social norms; even well educated health care providers find it hard to not comply with the prevailing social norms.