Pictured: Amref Health Africa's Global End-FGM/C Advisor Nice Nailantei Leng'ete talks to girls preparing for their ARP ceremony in Kajiado County, Kenya (c) Steve Kagia
Local governance structures set frameworks of best practice for community members to follow. In other words, write Denge Lugayo and James Murray, it is only at this level where global and national normative projects like Sustainable Development Goal 5 can have any meaningful impact.
Over the past decade, Amref Health Africa has been working to end Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) in Kajiado County, Kenya.
In 2020, these efforts were re-energised through a new project in the county that develops a community-driven-and-led initiative that uses Amref's Alternative Rites of Passage (ARP) model to work towards ending Female Genital Mutilation or Cutting (FGM/C), retaining the significance of cultural rituals and celebrations during the transition to womanhood while removing the harmful 'cut' for girls.
The timing of this project is particularly significant since Kajiado became the first county in Kenya to develop and adopt a robust policy that can end FGM/C at the community level. The Gender Mainstreaming Policy, which was first published on 5 December 2019, is firmly grounded on the principles of gender equality, inclusivity, and non-discrimination, and has established the legal framework enabling these tenets to be fast-tracked through decentralised governance structures at the county and ward levels.
Encouraging the inclusion of gender equality principles in local authorities' and governments' policies and structures is particularly important since their roles most directly address local needs and set priorities in both the public and private spheres. From this position, local governance structures set frameworks of best practice for community members to follow and in other words, it is only at this level where global and national normative projects like Sustainable Development Goal 5 can have any meaningful impact.
FGM/C in Kenya
The importance of local ownership
The importance of local ownership is already clear in Kenya, which introduced the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act in 2011, effectively banning and criminalising the practice of FGM/C. Since then, the prevalence of FGM/C in Kenya has steadily declined from 27% in 2008 to 21% in 2014. Nevertheless, the practice remains integral to many Kenyan communities and the rate of FGM/C, according to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (2014), remains nearly universal among the Maasai (78%), Kisii (84%), Samburu (86%), and Somali (94%) communities; and Kajiado Central Sub-County remains high above the national average at 51% according to a 2017 study.
The variance between national and community practices demonstrates the need to develop homegrown and community-driven solutions to end harmful or discriminatory practices perpetrated against women and girls. It is in this context that the significance of Kajiado policy becomes apparent, since not only does it manifest a new set of priorities focused on empowering women and girls to make decisions about their own lives; but also serves as a blueprint for other Kenyan counties to follow and introduce similar policies.
Kajiado's policy calls for the creation of three management committees targeting the end of FGM/C and are namely, the County Anti-FGM Management Committee, Sub-County Anti-FGM Management Committees, and Ward Anti-FGM Management Committees. These committees shall serve at various levels with the County Anti-FGM Committee tasked with designing, supervising, and coordinating programmes against the practice of FGM/C.
To help action the policy, these committees will establish and rely on a wide variety of public and private partnerships. Among the most important of these partnerships will be with international non-governmental organisations that can make international expertise and resources available to local actors. For example, through the project in Kajiado, Amref will reach 3,000 individuals with safe water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services, frameworks to improve Sexual Reproductive Health Services and Rights (SRHR) among adolescent girls and women of reproductive age, and will utilise its ARP approach to prevent 1,500 girls from undergoing FGM/C practices and child marriage in the county. The project will also train 90 Community Health Workers and link them to villages to monitor and track gender-based violence.
COVID-19 puts more girls at risk
While efforts continue to end harmful or discriminatory practices perpetrated against women and girls, the scale of the issue has grown since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. On 22 April 2021, the Ministry of Public Services and Gender states a recent study found that the number of gender-based violence cases recorded in Kenya between January and June 2020 increased by 92% compared to the same period in 2019. Unfortunately, similar findings are expected across Africa and the UNFPA estimates that on top of the three million girls already at risk of undergoing FGM/C annually on the continent the pandemic could cause an additional two million more cases of FGM/C over the next decade.
There is no question that the COVID-19 pandemic has set back decades of progress in reducing the number of girls and young women subjected to FGM/C. And if the UK's 41% cut to humanitarian assistance, 68% cut to conflict and open societies, 25% cut to girls' education, and 9% cut to health funding is an indication of rich nations' financial priorities in a COVID-19 world, the UNFPA's projection seems even more likely.
Nevertheless, there is still cause for hope. If COVID-19 has had any positive outcome, it is that much of the rhetoric about local solutions that are driven by local and national capacities for implementing humanitarian action has been brought into mainstream practice as development partners and organisations adjusted to COVID-19 restrictions. Along with the body of evidence, the building policy discourse through initiatives like the Grand Bargain is an indication of a system-wide normative cascade, with the concept and rationale for localisation gaining more support than ever before.
The UNFPA estimates that on top of the three million African girls every year who are already at risk of undergoing FGM/C, the pandemic could cause an additional two million more cases of FGM/C over the next decade.
There is no question that the COVID-19 pandemic has set back decades of progress in reducing the number of girls and young women subjected to FGM/C.
Shifting the power
So, this leaves us with the question. How can the development funding landscape be changed to increase the willingness and support the capacity of Kajiado’s local governance structures to develop and implement progressive policies that have a direct impact on communities' access to social and economic services and their ability to achieve optimal health and wellbeing? The Grand Bargain's second workstream attempts to answer this question by asking aid organisations and donors to commit to:
- Increase and support multi-year investment in the institutional capacities of local and national responders through collaboration with development partners and by incorporating capacity strengthening activities as part of partnership agreements.
- Remove or reduce barriers that prevent organisations and donors from partnering with local and national responders to lessen their administrative burden.
- Support and complement national coordination mechanisms and include local and national responders in international coordination mechanisms.
- Achieve by 2020 a global, aggregated target of at least 25% of humanitarian funding to local and national responders as directly as possible to improve outcomes for affected people and reduce transactional costs (a goal that 13 out of 53 grant-giving signatories met in 2020).
- Develop and apply a 'localisation' marker to measure direct and indirect funding to local and national responders.
- Make greater use of pooled, unearmarked funding tools which increase and improve assistance delivered by local and national responders.
Amref is a key member of the county task force which developed Kajiado County's FGM/C policy and has been included as a member of the Technical Working Group (TWG) for gender and child protection committees in the county which meets regularly to review child protection and gender issues and makes recommendations to the County Government. So far Amref has trained 71 local administrators on the effects of FGM/C, Child, Early and Forced Marriage (CEFM), teenage pregnancy, and the existing laws/policies against these harmful practices through its new project. Local administrators are key gatekeepers at the grassroots level – not only as leaders in the community but in their duties to monitor and report cases of child abuse including FGM/C and early marriage. Because of this capacity-building initiative, Amref and the project's resources have been recognised as a key partner on gender and child protection issues in Kajiado.