Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

The Determinants of Female Circumcision among Adolescents from Communities That Practice Female Circumcision in Two Nairobi Informal Settlements

Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

The Determinants of Female Circumcision among Adolescents from Communities That Practice Female Circumcision in Two Nairobi Informal Settlements

Article excerpt


Female circumcision is a topic and a practice that brings up emotive debates among researchers with some regarding it as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM; Dorkenoo & Elworthy, 1994); 'a cruel tradition'(Herieka & Dhar, 2003); 'child abuse' or Human Rights abuse (Ford, 2001). It has been noted that female circumcision has adverse medical implications for women's reproductive and sexual health (De Silva, 1989; Koso-Thomas, 1987). Medicalisation of female circumcision has dominated recent debates with some researchers arguing that it is more humane, for those cultures where it may be impossible to eradicate female circumcision, when conducted by medical doctors under clinical conditions (Shell- Duncan, 2001). However, other researchers have been against the medicalisation of FGM/C because they regard female circumcision as an inhumane and cruel practice that should not be permitted under any circumstances because doing so would perpetuate womens' rights abuses (Ford, 2001).

A result of the politicisation of the female circumcision debate is that those against it are accused of being influenced by feminist political discourses intent on othering and diminishing that which cannot be understood (James, 1998) and also of advancing and replicating colonial political discourses (Njambi, 2004). For example, among the Kikuyu of Kenya resistance against anti-female-circumcision crusades by Christian missionaries became a symbol of the fight against colonialism (Winterbottom, Koomen, & Burford, 2009).

Like male circumcision, female circumcision has also been studied in relation to the transmission of HIV. A study of both male and female circumcision in Kenya, Lesotho and Tanzania revealed that circumcised male and female virgins were more likely to be infected by HIV compared to non-circumcised virgins (Bosch, 2001; Brewer, Potterat, Roberts, & Brody, 2007). This according to the authors may be explained due to use of unsafe and contaminated instruments during the circumcision rather than sexual transmission as they found no association between female circumcision and sexually transmitted infections.

Although there have been attempts at the international level to fight Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C; or female circumcision) each year globally around 3 million girls are at risk of FGM/C (Feldman-Jacobs & Cliften, 2010, p. 6). Among adolescents aged between 15 and 19 Somalia has 97% prevalence rate for female circumcision, Ethiopia 62% while Kenya has a prevalence rate of 15% (Feldman- Jacobs & Cliften, 2010). Many African governments including Kenya are signatories to several international conventions that seek to protect the rights of women including the banning of female circumcision. In spite of the ban on female circumcision in Kenya, The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) of 1998 estimated that almost a third of women between the ages of 15-49 are circumcised (National Council for Population and Development [NCPD], Central Bureau of Statistics [CBS] Office of the Vice President and Ministry of Planning and National Development Kenya, & Macro International Inc. [MI], 1999). Women in the country are circumcised mostly in secret. Several studies have sought to understand why in spite of being banned in many countries the practice still persists (Beck & Keddie, 1978; Gordon, 1991; Gruenbaum, 2001).

In Kenya there are marked differences between older and younger women in female circumcision prevalence rates with those aged between 35 and 39 having a prevalence rate of 35% compared to 15% for younger women (Feldman-Jacobs & Cliften, 2010). Although the difference in circumcision between older and younger women may indicate a decline of FGM/C in Kenya, it has been noted in the KDHS of 2008-2009 (Kenya National Bureau of Statistics [KNBS] & ICF Macro, 2010) that there is great variation between regions with the lowest circumcision rate experienced in Kenya being 0. …

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