NPR Examines Amref Health Africa’s Alternative Rites of Passage Program

(Photo: Kenneth Musyoka/Amref Health Africa)


February 24, 2016 – Goats and Soda, a blog on National Public Radio’s website, ran a post on Amref Health Africa’s Alternative Rites of Passage program entitled Can a Bath of Milk and Honey Replace Female Genital Mutilation? Before the piece was posted on February 24, The Journal of Medical Ethics published an editorial entitled; Female genital alteration: a compromise solution (February 2016, Volume 42, Issue 2) advocating for a less extreme form of female genital cutting (FGC) as a compromise towards traditional cultures that continue to practice this dangerous ritual.


Our Nairobi-based Group Chief Executive Officer, Dr Githinji Gitahi, himself a physician and specialist in obstetrics and gynecology, issued the following statement in response to the “unfortunate article” in The Journal of Medical Ethics. Parts of the statement are quoted in the NPR post.


Amref Health Africa respects community cultural practices and encourages communities to continue with their rites of passage but abandon the harmful cut administered to the external genitalia of girls. We do not support any form of alteration of the female external genitalia for non-medical reasons.


Female genital mutilation, FGM, is a harmful practice which results in numerous medical complications including severe bleeding, infection, blockage of the urinary tract with renal complications and even death and later in life may result in the inability to deliver normally with resultant prolonged labor, vesico-vaginal fistula and death of the mother or infant.


It's important to understand that FGM has no medical benefits and as such, to advocate for any form of it is to miss the point.


Africa has numerous healthcare problems which contribute 25% of the world’s burden of disease with only 3% of the world’s health workforce. 


It would be totally counterproductive to discuss legalizing any level of a procedure with no medical benefit and divert these limited human resources for health to overseeing and regulating it.


Amref Health Africa believes in the power of communities to take charge of their own affairs and has been implementing the Alternative Rite of Passage with great success in the Maasai community of Kenya and Tanzania where more than 9000 girls have graduated and escaped the harmful practice.


Amref Health Africa believes that the real success will be obtained by advocating for Alternative Rite of Passage alongside legal measures, as well as for the harmful effects of FGM to be added to school curricula to be taught early in life, as is currently underway in Kenya. 


With increasing primary enrolment in Africa for both girls and boys, this would allow an opportunity to educate them early and empower them to discuss their choices with their parents.


Read the rest of Can a Bath of Milk and Honey Replace Female Genital Mutilation? at NPR.


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