Countering Female Genital Mutilation Anti-FGM Run in Kilgoris
speech by Ambassador Michael E. Ranneberger
April 21, 2007
It's a pleasure to be with you all today. After arriving in Kenya last August, my first trip as Ambassador was to Kilgoris, and then on to Enoosaen, where I distributed 14 scholarships to Masaai high school girls and boys on the fifth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks on my country. Kilgoris and Enoosaen are special places to the American people, since it was in Enoosaen that the Masaai donated 14 cattle to "ease the pain and suffering" of the people of New York following the attacks. It was during my visit here last September that I learned of the programs of Cherish Others, an organization led by a dynamic lady named Ruth Konchellah, that is working hard to bring equality and dignity to Kenyan girls, particularly in TransMara. So when Cherish Others asked me to participate in the walk and run that we just concluded, I jumped at the chance to support it. My only apprehension was that it really would be a seven kilometer run - instead of walk - but it was a walk and so I survived! It is also a great personal pleasure that Tegla Loroupe, a woman who needs no introduction, has joined us today. Tegla's presence reflects her commitment to improving the lives of Kenyans. She, along with Ruth Konchellah and so many of the ladies here today, serve as wonderful role models for the girls and young women of Kenya. Ruth's mother is also with us today. She is a writer of children's books, and is herself an inspirational model for Kenyan girls because of all that she has achieved.
I participated today to lend my modest support for this important effort to focus public attention on the need to end the anachronistic and dangerous practice of FGM. I am the father of a sixteen year old daughter, growing into a beautiful young woman, with all of the hope and anxieties that adolescents have. So I feel a particular affinity with the girls here today. As I prepared these remarks I thought about one Masaai girl who said she wanted to be circumcised because "if you are not cut, no one will talk to you…no man will marry…you if you are not cut." So let me speak directly to the girls who bravely participated in this anti-FGM event today: continue to seek what is best for you; be faithful to the best of your traditions and your culture; but do not be frightened by pressure from anyone or the threat of social stigma; some may seek to ostracize you but assert yourselves as the future citizens and leaders of this great country; be an example to your peers and to your community. And let me speak directly to this community and to its leaders: you need to protect these girls from FGM and help them achieve their full potential. Cherish Others' motto for the event today says it all: "FGM: 2 million girls are at risk. What are you doing to stop it?"
The United States is firmly opposed to the practice of FGM, and I am pleased that we are working with Kenyans to end it. I realize that this issue is culturally sensitive in some areas of Kenya, but it is one about which we nonetheless need to speak out. It is an objective fact that FGM is not, as some allege, beneficial to girls. As one of our recent Secretaries of State has pointed out "(M)any girls born in this Millennium year will tragically be affected by FGM. They will never see the inside of a school. They will be fed less and later than their brothers. And around the age of six, they may suffer genital mutilation. Around fourteen, they may get married and begin two decades of almost constant child-bearing." FGM is not an upward path to a brighter Kenya, but rather works counter to efforts to combat poverty and despair.
Working together to end FGM is yet another example of the vibrant U.S.-Kenyan partnership. For both of our governments it is first and foremost a matter of health and safety. Female genital mutilation kills girls due to bleeding and infections arising from the procedure; it kills women by increasing the risk of complications during childbirth; and it kills babies through complications. Stated in its starkest terms, there are mothers, wives, sisters and daughters who are dead today and will die tomorrow specifically because of the practice of female genital mutilation. In essence, FGM is a both a serious health issue and an abuse of internationally recognized human rights standards. The practice leaves a lifetime of physical and emotional scars.
The procedures result in infections, bleeding, and a great deal of pain and cruelty to young girls. The scarring among those who survive the practice often makes natural childbirth impossible, putting the health of our mothers and wives in danger. Because the cuts and scars often damage the opening of the girl's birth canal, complications during normal deliveries occur. And there are a host of other medical problems that result from the procedure. FGM leads to thousands of deaths of each year.
To its credit the Kenyan government has for some time been proactive in combating this practice. Presidential decrees in 1982 and 1989 banned the practice. In 2001 the Kenyan government formally outlawed female genital mutilation as a result of the Children's Act. The government is also implementing a national plan to eliminate FGM. I am happy to note that, as a result, the rate for FGM among women has fallen from 38 percent in 1998 to 31 percent in 2003. Of the 32 percent of Kenyan women who have been circumcised, only 21 percent of their eldest daughters have been circumcised, so progress is being made. In taking action against FGM and in improving the lives of girls and women, the Kenyan government is joining a growing international consensus against the practice. For example, the Beijing World Conference on Women's Platform for Action, the policies of the African Union, and other international agreements call on countries to adopt policies and laws to prohibit FGM and to support the efforts of community organizations to eliminate the practice. I am pleased to see the strong support provided by the District Commissioner and the government structure here to end the practice, particularly through support for the courageous work of Cherish Others.
As part of the U.S.-Kenyan partnership, we are helping to end FGM through activities focused on four key areas: education and awareness, provision of health information and services, empowerment of women, and helping with enforcement of Kenyan laws.
- We are speaking out, including through our annual Human Rights Report.
- I have announced that Kenya will benefit from the Women's Justice and Empowerment Initiative, which seeks to combat sexual violence and abuse against women, including FGM.
- We are partnering with Kenya to mainstream gender-based violence activities, including FGM, in the healthcare system. This includes training for nurses and midwives.
- We are fostering education. We have, for example, supported a nationwide policy on gender equity in education.
- We are supporting the work of Cherish Others, which has already saved many girls in the TransMara from FGM through the tireless work of Ruth Konchellah and her team. Their most recent one-year program we supported, called "Full Stop to the Horrific FGM," took a very effective broad-based approach, focusing on spreading the message not only to young women, but also to their parents and the community at large. With our support, Cherish Others is engaging dozens of young women in an alternative rite to FGM. Ruth and her team are changing minds and practices, keeping young women healthier and in school. In short, they are making a difference, setting an example, and challenging others to do so as well.
- Through the Ambassador's Girls Scholarship Program, we are supporting 3,000 Kenyan girls for primary and secondary education. One component of this, the Masaai Education Initiative has rescued over 200 girls from early marriage and FGM.
I have come here today to honor the courage of these young women and their parents and friends who chose to say "NO" to genital mutilation, despite the significant cultural and social pressures urging them to say "YES." I wish to express my deep admiration to the members of this community and its leadership who are supporting these brave decisions. Together, we can all contribute to the struggle to eliminate the practice which places so many lives at risk.