written by: Jenny Jecrois
In a previous blog post, we discussed how the closing of schools due to Covid-19 led to an increase in the number of teenage pregnancies and a decrease in the number of girls attending school. The impact of Covid-19 on young girls and the closing of schools is further highlighted by their increasing vulnerability to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), swelling the number of girls getting the procedure getting done.
About three months ago, the Kenyan High Court prohibited female mutilation to consenting adults because of the high health risks.The Kenya Female Genital Mutilation Act, further states that anyone found guilty of female circumcision could be sentenced to at least three years in jail or pay a fine of $1,800.
The prolonged school closures during this period can be directly linked to the risk young girls experience in regard to FGM. The schedule of school often indirectly protects girls from FGM practice because school breaks aren’t long enough for them to undergo the procedure and recover – a process that can take as long as two months if the area becomes infected. It has been reported that some mothers were happy with the long school closures because it allowed for a better opportunity for their daughters to get circumcised. The social network of schools, from peers and teachers, actively protected girls by holding parents accountable. Schoolmates would tell teachers if one of their female classmates had been cut and the teacher would report the parents to the police. Additionally, in school, girls were taught about the risks of FGM.
As many families struggle economically due to loss of employment during the pandemic, the dowry they would receive for marrying off their daughters is further incentive for FGM. In some of the tribes, FGM is a longstanding tradition, and it is an expectation for girls who wish to be married. In addition to not having the choice of getting the procedure done, girls expressing pain are also neglected. With cold water used as an anesthetic, the cries and shouts are culturally unaccepted as they signify cowardice and deem girls less attractive as possible wives. While the prevalence of FGM has decreased from 28 percent in 2008 to 21 percent in 2014, there exist significant variations regionally due to cultural and ethnic diversity.
Due to Covid-19, public awareness programs against FGM and rescue centres for women fleeing forced marriages have been disrupted in many countries. Since some of the centres also function as schools, they have to follow the school closing regulation, which hinders the service available to young girls and women. More than ever, it is time for youth advocacy and women’s health rights to be voiced as we see that this practice is not only illegal due to health risks but is culturally deeply ingrained in some societies denying girls their rights and overall wellbeing.