The International Conference on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was held at the Julius Nyerere International Conference Center, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. It took place on the 9 – 11 October 2023 with the Theme: “Change in a Generation”. The conference aimed at strengthening collaboration, partnership, capacity, and knowledge exchange, bringing together African member states, as well as regional and international partners, civil society, academia, media, and young people to reassess progress and look ahead post covid-19 –while also considering the impact of climate change and issues of fragility, including conflict and humanitarian contexts/situations -on efforts to eliminate the practice of FGM. This conference also builds on the success established in Ouagadougou by recognizing the efforts of Eastern African governments to halt cross-border FGM practice and achieving comparable action across the continent. The conference connected resources and programs and emphasized the necessity of data utilization. It also insisted on human rights and accountability at all levels. The conference highlighted inventions and inventors rekindled national and regional movements and created a forum to exchange knowledge and information about changing societal norms.
Susan Otieno, Executive Director, AAIK, a panelist at the International Conference on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was held at the Julius Nyerere International Conference Center, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
At the conference, ActionAid International Kenya (AAIK), in collaboration with Plan International and UN Women, also held a side event on gender transformative approaches to ending FGM. AAIK is implementing a gender transformative, girl-centered End FGM program called ‘The Girl Generation support to the African Led movement to end FGM/C.’ This program is implemented by a consortium led by Options Consultancy Services and has other partners: Amref Health Africa, the University of Portsmouth, the Population Council, Orchid Project and ACCAF. ActionAid Kenya is implementing the program in Isiolo and Garissa counties of Kenya. This work has resulted in the rescue of girls from FGM/C and child marriage, enrolment, and retention of girls in schools, increased agency and confidence for both girls and boys to advocate for an end to FGM/C and collective communal understanding and willingness to end FGM/C.
The side event panel included community champions from grassroots, established organic networks (Women Rights Network and Men for Change), ActionAid’s Gender Lead, Plan International and UN women program leads. While community champions demonstrated the impact of Gender Transformative programming at the community level, technical leads deconstructed the strategic strategies utilized to assure Gender Transformative programming, including Girl-Centered programming, a Human-Rights-Based Approach and the involvement of Boys and men as allies.
This side event was well attended and participatory and highlighted programmers’ interest in gender transformative programming and identified a gap in knowledge for many, especially around designing and monitoring gender transformative programs.
Key highlights of the side event
Female Genital Mutilation or Cutting (FGM/C) is closely tied to unequal power relations between men and women and is a form of Gender Based Violence (GBV). As a manifestation of gender inequality, it needs to be addressed through approaches that aim not solely to eradicate the practice in and of itself but also to transform the gendered and social norms and power relations that have produced and maintained it. This means that programs and interventions geared towards the eradication of FGM must actively examine, question, and change rigid gender norms and imbalances of power that advantage boys and men over girls and women. The interventions should aspire to tackle the root causes of FGM, which include unequal power relations and control of bodily autonomy. These interventions should also promote individual self-improvement among girls and women towards redressing the power dynamics and structures that reinforce gendered inequalities.
A Girl Centered Approach is critical to FGM programming since FGM/C primarily impacts girls. Therefore, the centrality of girls’ voice, participation, and implementation at every stage of the Programme is critical.
Girls also present lived experiences, are powerful, and they have ideas that have not been utilized; therefore, putting girls at the center ensures that their potential is unleashed, and their voices amplified. A girl-centered approach focuses on addressing the specific needs, challenges, and aspirations of girls and empowering them by providing them with the necessary resources, opportunities, and support systems to thrive and reach their full potential. This ensures that programs have maximum impact on girls and do not perpetuate harm. Girl-centered programming also recognizes the importance of gender equality. It aims to dismantle barriers that hinder girls’ progress in various aspects of their lives, including education, health, safety, and social empowerment.
Positioning the grassroots champions and survivors at the front to speak about the progress of ending FGM/C is important in advocacy spaces. Their stories showcase the impact of best practices, approaches, and interventions. This, therefore, calls for more resources to grassroots organizations to ensure they can use their collective power and voice to advocate for change.
Strategic engagement of men and boys as partners to end FGM is critical. For a long time, most religious and cultural leaders have been men. These leaders are trusted and respected by communities. Communities follow their guidance on what to practice culturally and religiously. Young men and boys are also privileged in families and communities and seen as decision-makers. Boys and men should, therefore, recognize themselves as part of a system of domination and have their own spaces for deconstructing their notions of power and privileges and use this privilege to advocate against harmful practices. Any effort to engage boys and men should actively promote girls’ and young women’s empowerment and in no way undermine their human rights.
Measuring gender transformative change is crucial and should involve tracking changes in attitudes for both men and women, boys and girls towards gender equality; changes in agency and confidence of girls and women; number of women and girls taking up leadership roles; laws and policies developed that promote gender equality and equity and promote a gender-based violence-free society.
Authors: Dorothy Mulei (Gender lead-TGG -ALM ActionAid International Kenya) and Teresiah Warui (Programme coordinator -TGG – ALM ActionAid International Kenya)
Edited by Ezra Kiriago ,Communications Coordinator ActionAid Kenya.