Perceptions of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) among the Ethiopian community living in Nairobi
Background: Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting (FGC) and female circumcision, is practiced in 28 countries of sub-Saharan Africa, a few countries in the Middle East and Asia, and among immigrant populations from these countries in Europe, North America and Australasia. As many as 100-140 million girls and women worldwide have undergone the practice, and at least three million girls are at risk of being cut each year, about 6,000 girls a day.
With a national prevalence of 73%, Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) is a common practice in all parts of Ethiopia and for women from all social strata as well as from all religious denominations. FGM/C is practiced to varying degrees throughout Ethiopia. The most severe form, infibulation, in which part or all of the external genitalia is removed and the vaginal opening is narrowed by stitching, is practised in the Somali, Afar, Harari, and some parts of Oromia regions of Ethiopia. In other regions, such as Tigray, the clitorial hood is removed with or without the entire clitoris.
Objectives: The ultimate goal of this study was to gain a better understanding of FGM/C among the Ethiopian community in Nairobi and of their perceptions about the practice to inform the design and implementation of a community-based strategy that would encourage abandonment of FGM/C.
Methodology: This study was undertaken among Ethiopian communities living in the Eastleigh area of Nairobi, Kenya. This study was descriptive in nature and collected data using qualitative research methods. A total of 23 in-depth interviews and focus group discussions were conducted. The data were transcribed and word processed before being analysed manually.
Result: FGM/C is a practice aimed at not only controlling female sexuality but also places girls and women in a socially accepted gender role by curtailing their sexuality. Other than the medical complications associated with FGM/C, respondents also agreed that FGM/C is a violation of human rights and that the communities need to be educated for them to consider abandoning the practice; sustained community education is crucial, therefore, to initiate abandonment of FGM/C. This education should involve different actors and should be introduced in a manner that communities find acceptable.
Conclusion: Greater efforts should be put on using religious arguments against the practice. Education is required for religious and traditional leaders, policy makers and the general public on the harmful effects of FGM/C, including it being an abuse of human rights. Government ministries, women’s organisations and NGOs should also play an active role in efforts to eradicate this practice. Mechanisms should be established to facilitate the exchange of experiences and best practices across countries and regions for combating FGM/C. It will be necessary to tailor efforts so that the social and cultural reasons underlying the practice are discussed and debated so that a desire for change emanates from the community itself.