In Addis Ababa, a five-day conference is underway on female genital cutting. The UN Population Fund says worldwide, up to 140 million women and girls have been subjected to the practice, which is also known as female genital mutilation. The agency is calling on the international community to support its campaign for zero tolerance of the practice.
Kemal Mustapha is the UN Population Fund’s representative in Kenya. From the conference site in the Ethiopian capital, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the prevalence of female genital cutting in Kenya.
“The national prevalence rate, when it was last measured in the demographic and health survey, which was conducted in 2003, was that 32 percent of the females in the age range of 15 to 49 had gone through this at one stage or the other. However, that figure needs to be treated carefully because there are areas of the country where it’s almost non-existent and there are areas where you have prevalence rates in certain ethnic communities of over 90 percent. What is encouraging is that the prevalence rate among the younger women is decreasing. And that quite a lot of that 32 percent is made up of older women,” he says.
Asked whether the cutting is done in traditional settings, where a single cutting instrument is used on many different women and girls, Mustapha says, “It varies very much from community to community. There are cases where that kind of practice does continue and efforts are being made to introduce ways in which people are alerted to the health risks, especially of HIV infection. But the general trend has been to try and work towards its elimination. Legislation was passed in the year 2001 criminalizing the cutting of any child under 18. There has unfortunately been in some communities the medicalization, whereby because of the fears of problems of hygiene, people have resorted to going to medical practitioners to undergo the surgery. So, that’s something that’s also being tackled,” he says.
In regards to gathering international support, he says, “I think this has to be seen within the broader framework of human rights, of gender equality and of the Millennium Development Goals.”