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Role of politicians in ending FGM in Africa

Problem

Despite being in positions of influence, and having massive media coverage, most politicians prefer not to talk about FGM. 

Purpose

This session sought to break down the reasons why politicians don’t speak about FGM, how to begin discussions on the topic with local/regional/national elected officials and how to rally more politicians to EndFGM media campaigns. The session also kickstarts a #PoliticiansToEndFGM campaign in the media.

Objectives

  1. Break down the reasons why politicians should speak more about FGM, and how it would impact policy change/implementation
  2. Share best practices on how to effectively engage and involve politicians in the EndFGM efforts (on local, regional, national scales)
  3. How to rally more politicians to speak about FGM on the media, why is it important?
  4. Launch of the next cycle of DAGs (16 days of activism) with a focus on #PoliticiansToEndFGM

Notes

(By Alice Roques) 

  • Media is one of the most powerful tools to engage all stakeholders involved in the fight against FGM
  • FGM is a policy issue, and politicians across Africa have the power of shifting the policies. We need to shift the focus back to the policy-makers today through the use of the media
  • Rugiatu Neneh Turay decided to get involved into politics when she was told that one cannot win an election if they are against FGM. She has been campaigning and trying to prove the opposite. She contested in an election and won with the highest vote in her locality, and succeeded in embedding FGM into policy efforts. She was able to influence a Minister to publicly condemn the practice. In Sierra Leone, FGM within the bondo culture is used as a means to buy votes in poor rural communities. They provide incentives for this activity to carry on.
  • Politicians have a huge influence in their communities, they should be held accountable for their actions, taken for or against citizens’ well-being.
  • Support for FGM can be used as an election winner. When you stand against it you can lose popularity
  • Rugiatu started engaging political parties’ leadership and parlimentarians to establish in House of Partliament an anti-FGM committee. Now engaging cabinet members. Rugiatu had to engage with them one by one, showing them a video of the cutting.
  • Where are we policy-wise? A nation needs a national strategy. There is one in Sierra Leone, but we need to lobby so this strategy is translated into a working document owned by the government, which will make it accountable to the international community.
  • Sierra Leone was at 90% prevalence, which has declined with campaigning efforts.
  • There is an age of consent, but FGM is not only about girls, it’s about women. We need a document owned by the government, in order to report progress.
  • Removing FGM from Bondo bush doesn’t require additional laws, but a strategy that is implemented.
  • Changing mindsets is the most difficult thing.
  • Showing of a short video with clips of politicians communicating their views on FGM works

    Questions from attendees
  • How do political statements impact anti-FGM media campaigning?
  • Does FGM being framed as a cultural practice limit politicians’ role in ending the practice?
  • What is the effect of using graphic imagery?
    • Sierra Leone’s first Lady says no one has given her the evidence, which shows politicians are just shying away from the evidence that is there and shown to them. With the documentary, Rugiatu has been able to keep momentum up around the anti-FGM fight. The first time parliamentarians watched it… they did not want to, but they were encouraged to stay. You have to see what is being done because people try to minimize it. After seeing the video, people joined the campaign.
  • We have to change the way people look at this, and one of the ways is for them to see. They have to see in order to believe.
  • David Mande, based in Eastern Uganda campaigning for last 5 years:
    • The video on politicians: impressed by President of Kenya
    • In Uganda, implementation of the law is taking the wrong direction
    • Commitments by top leadership are key
  • Dr Chris Ugwu: Nigeria, 2015 Act criminalises FGM, CFM and other practices. The reality is, Nigeria is huge on policy-making but not on implementation. The issue of using videos for behaviour-change (parents, legislators, academics) always has tremendous impact. Always get consent of the people pictured/filmed. Whether FGM is practiced in hospital or house it has to end.
  • Sadia Hussein:
    • She has been engaging political leaders in Tana River, they can now confidently speak in public about FGM
    • They used religious scholars to delink FGM and religion in the #FGMNotMyReligion media campaign. If Religious Leaders can say FGM in not in the Qu’ran or Bible, politicians will not fear speaking against FGM again
    • Through the Religious Leaders, it becomes possible for politicians to speak against the practice. They have to be involved
  • Clitoris as evidence in Court (happened in Uganda): Rugiatu says it’s sad for anyone to ask for the clitoris to be used as evidence because this is just a way of not wanting to take action, it’s an excuse not to seriously consider the case because using a clitoris as evidence of FGM is difficult
  • The clitoris has a role in childbearing ~Rugiatu 
  • Women speaking out is powerful. You must ask them: are you willing to speak up? Their stories will make a difference, it is good to have stories. But as a strategy, we need to, when they fight to be elected, let’s start by having our candidates presented the scientific evidence on FGM, let’s have survivors share their testimonies. Politicians have to be influenced from the beginning of their campaigns, let’s start from the moment they start running for office.
  • Power of stories, Mamboleo quotes Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Joycelyn Mwangi:
    • Feels from Rugiatu’s response, wonders why women have to prove the consequences of mutilation, this is a case of human rights. What we need is to strengthen legislation. In countries where laws are not set this is what should be done
    • Doesn’t understand why clitoris would be asked as evidence in court
    • If a lady has undergone FGM, the first place that lady should be taken to is a hospital, where evidence can be gathered to show she has undergone FGM
    • Frameworks exist for police officers, doctor to report FGM. All countries should have these frameworks
  • Declarations should be followed by an increase in the number of women judges and legislators
  • Kenya is heading towards general elections, is it time to start holding them accountable, raising awareness within the parties?
  • What role for the media?
    • We can’t limit the media to TV and radio
    • From the moment they start campaigning they need to be reunited and speak on FGM
    • Media is also town hall meetings
    • Second thing is to ask media people to record them
    • If you take politician to the radio they can change their whole discourse
    • Start talking about other topics, let them speak freely, start recording, and then begin a discussion on FGM
    • The activists identify and bring the influencers, and the journalists should moderate, they have a training and know how to ask the right questions
    • Follow-up with politicians, make sure they follow their (campaign) promises. Call them out, they have a responsibility to take care of the people.
    • Let them sit, observe, and listen.
    • Once you’ve had informal discussions about FGM, bring politicians to the radio
    • Take your time to bring them onto the radio, and make sure not to begin the conversation with FGM
    • Journalists should always ask questions on FGM during press briefings/conferences
  • Dennis Maithya: anti-FGM campaigners are good at what they do, artists produce songs and are invited to gatherings to perform these songs, with politicians dancing with them. After meetings and declarations politicians should be held accountable. If women are empowered, why don’t they come together and speak with one voice against FGM?
  • Gbotemi Ogunyemi: give heads up if you use graphic imagery (to audience, media platform). Let’s engage local politicians better, more. National politicians will only engage once every campaign/election, Local elected officials will keep engaging with you.
  • What next?
    • Rugiatu: politicians are often insincere. But at the end of the day land, health, economics are also FGM-centred, engage them with sincerity
  • Where are the men? Men make the majority of political leaders. If they don’t take the lead, who are you going to convince?
  • Vote on the hashtag: #PoliticiansToEndFGM

Tweetable comments

Daniel Mukami: Glad to be here! A conversation as green as never before!I want to agree with the fact that our mindsets must now begin to change, because no matter how many policies we make if our minds do not subscribe to them then it's… Click To TweetDennis Maithya: The fact that FGM has been associated with culture and religion in some way limits the politicians to freely join in campaigns against FGM because it would affect their political mileage. #Politicians to end FGM. Click To TweetDennis Maithya: can you ever hear a politician when campaigning promise to end fgm? they would promise to end unemployment to boost their political mileage but can't promise to end FGM because it may dent their chances.… Click To TweetMamadou A.H Bah: If politicians can come to the populace and ask for votes during campaign periods, those times are perfect opportunities to have background engagement with relevant stakeholders (religious and community leaders) on FGM… Click To TweetMamadou A.H Bah: For the politicians to implement once elected. This starts from the local council levels moving to the parliamentary members and to the president. #PoliticiansToEndFGM Click To TweetDennis Maithya: Politicians are very witty. they know what the people want on the ground and if you see them shying away from FGM there could be some resistance from the community. #PoliticiansToEndFGM Click To TweetCharles Wanyoro: Politicians in FGM-prone areas mostly don't publicly condemn the vice during an electioneering year to avoid losing votes. I've heard of politicians having their wives cut to win elections. #PoliticiansToEndFGM Click To TweetPeter Kemei: This is an amazing discussion. we have no option but to ensure politicians take an active role in ending FGM #PoliticiansToEndFGM Click To TweetMoraa Obiria: Only politicians who are passionate about protecting the rights of girls and women can go against the tide to discourage FGM. And often, they are women. #PoliticiansToEndFGM Click To TweetDennis Maithya: Politicians need to come out bold and stand for truth. Laws are made in parliament but the lawmakers themselves can't come out loud to speak against it. #PoliticiansToEndFGM Click To TweetDennis Maithya: In Kenya we have positions for women representatives in all 47 counties … couldn't they come with one voice to end FGM just like they have many initiatives? #PoliticiansToEndFGM Click To TweetSamuel Oduor: I think this whole agenda needs a collective effort, the politicians who come from Regions that practice FGM can start the fight,and I'm sure the other members will join in and it becomes a national movement.… Click To TweetWashington Odhiambo: Fight against FGM should be part of agenda even in their campaigns…politicians have a big role in ending FGM. #PoliticiansToEndFGM Click To TweetHilary Burrage: Very few politicians (anywhere) understand the huge economic costs of FGM. #PoliticiansToEndFGM Click To TweetRonald Keter: women reps should support such kinds of forums /campaigns (fight against FGM) #PoliticiansToEndFGM Click To TweetHilary Burrage: The costs include much more even than 'just' the medical and care issues. Women are disempowered. It's harder with ill-health and little autonomy to care for your family, funds are diverted from positive/progressive… Click To TweetMoraa Obiria: The civil society/media should make them understand the cost of FGM. #PoliticiansToEndFGM Click To TweetHilary Burrage: Yes indeed, Moraa! But it's hard work, even though there's a lot of costs which must now be acknowledged. #PoliticiansToEndFGM Click To TweetKelvin Mwangi: Yes I agree, if journalists indeed take the lead in the fight against FGM, then so much progress can be made. #PoliticiansToEndFGM Click To TweetHilary Burrage: I don't want to overstate the economic aspect, but here are some more thoughts, for anyone who wants to consider it. I suspect that some politicians will take more notice of economic issues than other aspects?… Click To TweetAmina Mbaabu: The media should sensitive the public on the need to elect politicians that are in the Frontline in the fight against FGM. #PoliticiansToEndFGM Click To TweetWashington Odhiambo: very true media are also very key in conveying the FGM advocacy messages by the politician, It is true that FGM campaigns are underlooked in terms of budget allocations, politicians in most cases will raise their… Click To TweetKelvin Mwangi: I come from Kenya and I tend to feel like there aren't enough women leaders speaking against the vice-like Dennis said and the truth is if they did, so much good/progress would be achieved on the matter 'FGM'… Click To TweetDennis Maithya: WHAT NEXT: Just like anti-FGM champions/campaigners have convinced religious leaders to de-link FGM from religion, same way now they should involve local/national politicians and make them speak against it.… Click To TweetAda M: From the Gambia I believe we can engage women in political parties, to get them to talk about FGM and also take a stand on the issue. #PoliticiansToEndFGM Click To TweetGbotemi Ogunyemi: Politicians and NGOs should commit to the empowerment of cutters who have dropped their cutting knives. #PoliticiansToEndFGM Click To Tweet

Jeremiah Kipainoi

Kipainoi is Director of Communications at GMC, and is working with activists to effectively run their media campaigns to end FGM in 9 African countries.He is an award-winning multimedia journalist covering women's rights issues and has been published on the BBC, Deutsche Welle, The New York Times, among others.He produced the End FGM Podcast and hosted the End FGM Live, bringing together local and global stakeholders working at the End FGM campaign during the Covid-19 pandemic.