Men are critical allies in the fight against FGM

On International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, a Kenyan anti-FGM activist says that men are key to stopping this barbaric practice.

As an anti-female genital mutilation (FGM) activist for 10 years, Nairobi’s Joycelyn Mwangi has led numerous information sessions throughout Kenya for men, detailing the brutal effects of this ancient tradition.

“I see shock — disbelief from the men, they ask if this is what happened to their wives and daughters — this deep pain and agony. Some cry. I’ve had men calling home in the middle of these sessions saying that their girls should not be subjected to FGM under any circumstances,” says Mwangi, CEO of the Gender Rights Network, an advocacy group working towards a zero FGM rate in Kenya by 2030. 

February 6 is International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation and Mwangi is adamant that, in order for FGM to be eliminated, men and women must work together. FGM is practiced on girls as young as eight. About 200 million females around the globe are FGM survivors.

In a conservative, patriarchal society like Kenya, men are the leaders, from the local to national levels. They make the decisions for a community, including whether girls will undergo FGM, says Mwangi. “Once men declare that FGM should stop in a society, then it stops.” She says that this model: educating and sensitising men to the mental and physical effects of FGM, could be emulated where ever it is practiced.

This year, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics released survey figures showing that FGM rates had dropped to 15 percent in 2022, down from 21 percent in 2014. Mwangi’s approach is proving successful. The numbers vary: the Kenya Somali community, for example, still sees FGM rates above 90 percent, Mwangi says.