On the frontlines of the fight against female genital mutilation

Women in the West Pokot District of the Rift Valley Province in Kenya.

Although political mood is beginning to change, it is not that often we hear about the subject of female genital mutilation (FGM) in any great depth.  Most people in the West believe that female genital mutilation - alternatively called female genital cutting (FGC) and female circumcision - was something that went on, in history, at some random point, in ‘darkest Africa’.  

It is practised today.  Still— yes—and with force, in several parts of the world including countries in Africa but also in parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Iraq (Kurdistan). With international migration, FGM has been exported to Western soil and governments of the US, the UK, Switzerland, Scandinavian countries, and Australia are now playing a role in enforcing its criminalization.  

But first, let’s rewind 3,500 + years of history.  To understand female-cutting’s origins, Wikipedia’s article is a good starting point. The traditional cultural practices of FGM predate Christianity and Islam. It’s widely accepted, academically, to have originated in Egypt during the Pharaohs’ civilization.  

In present times, that is to say—today—a senior consultant for WHO based in Geneva, tells us it should be comforting to know the highest religious authority in Egypt, the Al-Azhar Supreme Council of Islamic Research, stated that FGM has no basis in core Islamic law or any of its partial provisions and that it is harmful and should not be practiced.  Good to know.  Therefore we should expect for the global efforts to eradicate FGM. 

But the picture is obviously extremely complex. Globally accepted, as good and just, is the authority of the Inter-African Committee.  It’s both the source of information on international convention(s) and local legislation(s) and the template for the political commitment to end FGC, highlighted in the form of, and sanctioned by its Maputo Protocol.  This agreement is synchronized with the “African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights of Women in Africa” and, signed by, the African Union (2003).  In addition, the World Health Organization defines 4 forms of FGM and its stake in its actions against all practices.  

But anyone can look up internet links. 

What isn’t as ABC as surfing the web for fighting-cause dialogue, is having direct access to an individual who is knowledgeable, localized and working towards FGM prevention.   

VO is proud to have been able to catch up with one such remarkable woman for an exclusive interview, Lilian Plapan, based in Kenya.  A member of one of the Inter African Committee’s NGOs, in offices that are located in Kapenguria, Kenya (close to the Ugandan border) and, here in VO, she’s imparting her indigenous knowledge so that we can better understand the conundrum facing the efforts to eradicate FGM.  

Lilian Plapan’s information is both exemplary and candid.  She’s the current spokesperson for SETAT Women’s Organization, operated through the IAC’s website-section: “Traditional practices that affect health of women and children.”  SETAT doesn’t have a website of its own. We connected through some modern telecommunications with solid contact outside of the area.  

Kapenguria is the capital of the West Pokot District, in Kenya; it’s a town north of Kisumu situated NE of Kitale on the A1 road and has a population in excess of 55,000, including surrounding outskirts.

VO: Why is SETAT situated where it is?

LP: We decided on this because this is where FGM is still very high in this region.    

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