Why I believe the Youth can #EndFGM!

Earlier this year, during the 60th Commission on Status of Women (CSW) held in New York with the theme “Women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development”, FGM was for the first time included in the global goals under Sustainable Development goal 5. Target 5.3: Eliminate all harmful practices such as child, early/forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

For the millions of girls currently at risk of FGM this new global goal brings the promise of a better future.

Eliminating FGM is a crucial step in achieving many of the other Sustainable Development Goals including targets on health and well-being, education, gender equality, decent work and economic growth. As the practice of FGM continues, the health/well-being of girls and women is threatened and they are denied opportunities for decent work and quality education.

This provision is also a great platform for the billions of the youth in the world campaigning against the practice.

Why the youth?

To begin with, the youth constitute to worlds half population. These are great numbers that can push for desired change!

We just got a great provision to enable us eliminate FGM in one generation. We are powerful in eradicating FGM since we are the Change agents, we are the revolutionists. A new beginning starts with us and a new world is definitely molded by us.

We are the voice and the driving force behind the developments to eliminate harmful customs and traditional practices.

We are the pacesetters; we set a trend that the next generation will follow, the future of the next generation is therefore destined in us. We are the blacksmiths of this current and future world, we can shape it the best way possible since we have the power and the ability to advocate for change.

We are the innovators, most creative ideas generate within us. We have the right technology that we can incorporate in our campaign to end FGM.

We have the energy to work, energy to lead, ability to influence decision making, ability to influence policy formation and law enforcement.

We have unique talents: ability to sing, write, draw, dance etc. We can use our various talents to drive Anti-FGM messages home.

We are the future leaders, doctors, midwives, social workers, and teachers. We are therefore supposed to take up the leadership roles now. We are practically the leaders of our nations. Let us use this power to direct and influence change.

It is necessary that we learn now why FGM and early child/forced marriages is wrong so that we can grow in a society that condemns these practices. Do we in the first place really know about the practice? How can we influence change without the knowledge? Let’s start by empowering ourselves with the right information through education. Education is key in eradicating these practices, we need to pioneer for interactive resources that can be used in a classroom setting, both formal and informal education, Mali, Kenya and Burkina Faso has done it. These way children do not accept FGM unquestionably as an inviolable tradition. Through education, young people learn to think for themselves and make decisions for themselves and future families.

We need to realize that we cannot work as stand-alone entities. Let’s come together, tap into available resources, converge all our unique talents and abilities, form a national movement that speaks with one voice and move with synergy towards eradicating FGM and other social malpractices. Let’s create a national dialogue, engage the key players and create relationships with all the activists and organizations campaigning against FGM .Our concerted effort can indeed wipe out the practice.

Let us not focus on teaching young people solely from FGM affected background; it is necessary to educate all young people. FGM is a human right abuse and therefore

“Everybody’s business”

It is my business.

 

Francis, a young male who vows to end FGM in Loitoktok

“FGM is soon going to be history in Loitoktok as it largely contributes to school dropouts and early marriages,” says former reproductive  health expert, Mr Francis Odhiambo.

Mr Odhiambo, who formerly worked with the United States Agency for International Development, (USAID) said he had developed an aggressive but friendly approach to fighting FGM as he had learnt a lot since 2010 when he was posted to the area.
In an interview , Mr Odhiambo said his passion arose after he realized many young lives were being destroyed due to the FGM practice which ensure women would never rise beyond the ‘kitchen’.

francis
Francis dressed like a Moran

Five years later, Mr Odhiambo vividly recalls a particular incident that pains him to date;
They had just retired for the day when they received a call that there was a dying 13year old expectant girl who had been rescued from Tanzania a few minutes after she underwent the cut.“We drove to the border area and received the girl but the bad weather made the roads impassable and the girl died from excessive bleeding before reaching hospital.No one was arrested or punished for her death,” he says.
After the disturbing incident, Odhiambo vowed to do something that will put an end to the barbaric practice that kills and denies young girls opportunities for a better future.
He quit his work and together with a few more youth from the county formed a community based organization named ‘Network of Youths in Action’ (NOYA) .
They organized for inter-school and community outreach programmes where they used comedies, skits, folk songs, theatre and dances to teach girls on the effects of FGM.
Still, he did not see any change, girls dropped out of school, girls got pregnant forcing them to get married off to old men. He realized that it was not the girls that made decisions but their male parents as women in the Maasai community have no ‘voice’. His messianic approach to save these young generation from this cruelty was met with a lot of resistance from men who viewed him as an outsider claiming  he was ‘poisoning’ the young girls.

Odhiambo slowly penetrated groups of ‘Morans’ (Morans are Maasai male teenagers/warriors) by attending their weekend evening feast of ‘Nyama choma’ (roast meat) and even sipped raw blood from bloody gourds. He chatted many nights away with the morans and was soon assimilated into their weekly feasts where he donned their red coloured ‘shuka’ and adopted to the culture.
He quickly started a program targeting the Morans called ‘Morans for Girl Child Education and Empowerment, (M4GEE). The program was aimed at training Morans on the effects of FGM and the importance of educating girls. The Morans became champions, Anti-FGM ambassadors and the security that curbs cross-border FGM. In 2013, NOYA started aggressive community outreaches using magnet theater whereby they use drama and skits to educate the community.
Early this year, to mark Zero Tolerance day to FGM in February, they held a Moran festival , a festival that brought together all the Morans and the Maa community where messages to end FGM were propagated. T he festival was also meant to raise funds that would go to education of the young girls. Francis admits that there has been a significant drop in FGM cases in this comminity.

He acknowledges Alice Masinte who is a key ambassador for NOYA projects. The only challenge was in the beginning when he received so much resistance. He has over a period earned trust from the community and has also created dialogue with the necessary policy makers in Kajiado county.

In addition, Francis is an artist. He records and sings music with messages that urge communities, country and world at large to abandon FGM. His advocacy through music is bearing fruits as he also gets opportunities to perform during Anti-FGM festivals and events.

Francis does not even come from this county but lives, works and relates quite well with a people that he can hardly speak their language. Francis was born and raised in Kisumu, a region that hardly practices FGM. He urges fellow men to be the voice of change since Kenya is a patriarchal nation.

Currently, he is a member of the Kenya Youth Anti-FGM Network- a national Anti-FGM Youth movement that has recently been formed by the youths from the different FGM practicing communities in Kenya.

Fighting vs Managing FGM

FGM/C is a very sensitive and often A taboo issue enshrined within complex political, social, cultural and religious perceptions that go to the gender identity and gender relations.

Any efforts to end FGM/C can result in damaging consequences,driving the practice underground,undermining existing efforts to end the practice,putting individuals at risk,stigmatising those that have undergone FGM/C and adding broader political or cultural tensions.

The approach on how to eradicate FGM/C should therefore be very tactical across the practicing communities. The process of change is riddled with resistance and protest and this is unavoidable when social change begins to take place. It is hard to convince people to stop a culture that they hold on so dearly. It is their way of life. And they are somehow blind to the damaging effects.

The discourse surrounding FGM/C needs to change from engagement based on fear, power and ignorance to one of hope, empowerment and knowledge.

Anti-FGM campaigners need to understand the reasons why a community practices FGM, then plan out a practical acceptable solution.

Common reasons why FGM/C is practiced include: to increase marriageability, as a rite of passage to prepare a girl for marriage and adulthood, to ensure premarital virginity and morality ,to curb sexual desires and reduce woman libido, for femininity and modesty and as a cultural tradition. But these reasons vary across communities.

The Government of Kenya passed a bill prohibiting the practice of FGM. The Act outlaws the carrying out of FGM/C on both girls and women; safeguards them against any form of violation; outlaws any person from performing FGM/C; prohibits the use of premises to perform FGM/C and the possession of tools or equipment for FGM/C; Further, failure to report the commission of FGM/C; or committing FGM/C on a Kenyan in another country; or using derogatory language on any person who has declared ‘No’ to FGM/C are considered crimes.

According to the Act, ignorance will not be accepted as a line of defense by a perpetrator; neither will the claim that FGM/C is part of a cultural, religious, or other custom or practice. The Prohibition of FGM Act 2011 is, therefore, a vital legal framework in the fight against this harmful practice.

This was seen as a move to manage the practice.  In the real sense, the practicing communities feel they are being ‘coerced’ to stopping the practice. It has therefore been hard to prosecute the perpetrators.

Former Somaliland ‘s First Lady Edna Adan, says that while laws are a right direction to curbing FGM/C, they must be matched with practical solutions as enforcement is a big challenge. She adds that legislation only works when the majority of the people respect them. But when the majorities are committing violations, the few that support the law lack the muscles to enforce the same laws because they cannot put 99% of the community in jail!

Anti – FGM/C laws in Africa countries are gathering dust because enforcement may mean incriminating every grandmother who perpetrates the practice.

I came across a brilliant approach employed by The Girl Generation in managing FGM/C -Social change communication: communication which speaks to the motivations behind the practice and identifies the very real personal and social barriers that hinder abandonment of FGM. Communication which provides alternative, opens up debate and discussion in the public sphere, prompts individuals to question their acceptance of the practice and increasingly builds confidence to speak against it.

For FGM to end there needs to be a positive transformation in the way that girls are valued, and in the beliefs and social norms that underpin FGM.

Alternative Rites of Passage (ARPs) is also a practical option towards managing FGM. This approach offers the communities that practice FGM/C an alternative rite of passage where girls are “secluded” for one week for empowerment workshops with their mothers and other female role models. At the end of the week, family and community members gather to celebrate the girls’ passage into adulthood.

The girls perform uplifting songs and dances, and local leaders, especially women, give speeches. And, instead of genital cutting, a cake is cut to celebrate the girls entering womanhood! Women’s Global Education Project (WGEP) call it “Circumcision with words”

The workshop is aimed at creating awareness on the effects of FGM/C and promote the value of educating girls who are however married off immediately after FGM/C especially among the Maasai Community.

Incorporating FGM/C in the school curriculum is a great move towards managing FGM/C. When children are taught about FGM/C and learn about the effects, they will not unquestionably accept FGM/C as an inviolable tradition, they will therefore think for themselves and make decisions for themselves and their future families.

Revoking licenses from doctors that perform and abet the practice of FGM/C is a great move towards managing the Medicalization aspect of FGM/C.

My question is: what happens to the thousands that have already undergone FGM/C and are suffering the effects in silence. Are there mechanisms in place by the Ministry of Health to help Manage the affected women and girls?

 

 

 

 

 

WHY THE BANYORE DO NOT PRACTICE FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION (FGM)

On one occasion, while having a grand-daughter grand-father moment, I got a chance to ask my old grandfather (96yrs) some questions that had been bugging me for a long time. Now that I was no longer a child I felt that that was the right time to boldly ask him this sensitive question; why don’t The Banyore practice FGM?  The answer was quite flabbergasting!

At his age, he could still articulate well and yes I loved his sense of humor! I would sleep on aching ribs. I loved him and I miss him. He passed on a few months after our candid talk.

My grandfather was a chauvinist; he had very low regard for women. He despised women who wore high heels, or those who sought for power and especially women news anchors/broadcasters (what can they tell people) I guess those were his thoughts. He would simply tune to a different radio station for news when he heard a voice of a female anchor. He felt that all women belonged to the kitchen and that that was their rightful place. He headed barazas and the only time women were invited was when tea was to be served. As a matter of fact I would never visit him dressed in trousers; on my first attempt he warned me and even threatened to reduce them to rugs, so I heeded to his advice,  (Ops that was more of a command than advice). As for the heels, he warned me that one woman fell down terribly and almost lost her life in heels and it would be sad if I followed suit! He, however, preferred slender to mid-sized women and slammed on fat ones, ouch! In a way, he was the perfect vestige of an old patriarchal age when men called the shots and women heeded and still held fast to his belief in men’s absolute power to shape their destiny and those of women they interacted with.

Back to his answer about why my community does not practice FGM. He took some time to reminisce, then came out again. The first attempt to mutilate a woman had turned tragic.

He explained that the first and the last act was carried out years ago in a small village of Itumbu, 2km from the famous Luanda Market. The husband to this married woman had complained of her promiscuity to the council of elders. The council therefore decided to perform an FGM act on her in order to contain her ‘steam’ and also serve as a deterrent to other women.

Unfortunately, the woman passed on that very evening while the council was celebrating the achievement at a fireplace and local brew fest. They were perturbed when they heard screams from that homestead. To their dismay, the woman had bled to death. Several expensive rituals had to be conducted for a number of days. The act was viewed as heinous and was seriously condemned. The astonishing incident instilled fear in the entire community.

This took me aback and created a little moral dilemma. Wait; was it good that she passed on or was it good that the death inspired a tradition change and went on to shape our tradition and spare women like me in the future, albeit from that physical manifestation of male dominion?

According to my community, death is seen as bad omen. We do not tolerate deliberate death or suicide. If a person commits suicide, they are buried in the middle of the night where total silence is observed and all lights dimmed. The dead person is at first slapped around and condemned for his foolishness. This is done to serve as a deterrent to others.

If someone kills another, either deliberately or accidentally, they have to undergo rituals in order to make peace with the dead. If not the spirit of the dead haunts them for the rest of their life!

Back to my story….

We, however, haven’t fully escaped from the practice since my sisters are married off to neighboring communities that practice FGM such as The Kuria, and are somehow compelled to pursue the act. It remains something that our current council of elders is seriously looking into.

In my clan, to curb FGM, my uncles had to triple the bride price (to make it tough to acquire a nyore woman) when my aunt was forced to be circumcised a few years after being married into the Kuria community. FGM is still rampant among the Kuria. Additionally my uncles paid a visit to the community and declared that any attempt to circumcise the Banyore women married in the Kuria community would lead to conflict and also forbid intermarriages between the two communities. That act of tragedy has transformed the male in my community into unwitting gender activists in their own right!

In the past week, I have been lucky to engage with The Guardian Media team from the UK. Last year they launched a global media campaign against FGM. Last week they held a first of its kind media academy where FGM activists from FGM-practicing communities converged to share experiences and learn how to use media to end FGM. The Academy dubbed #EndFGMacademy  brought together young activists from Kenya, Gambia and Nigeria. It was an eye-opening experience and I also got to rub shoulders with some of my Kenyan female idols!

Me with Dr. Linah Jebii Kilimo, former Minister and current Chairperson of the Anti-FGM Board.
Me with Dr. Linah Jebii Kilimo, former Minister and current Chairperson of the Anti-FGM Board.

My quest to learn more and write more on FGM was born or rather reborn! Now it is not just an abiding security but practical quest to actually share and rediscover. It is still something that people take for granted and I think the consequences can be quite tragic as the Banyore learned years ago. I will now use any available platform including my new blog to bring out stories like these.

For those not yet familiar with FGM, if there are still any souls left, here is a little induction:-

So what is FGM?

Female genital mutilation/cutting comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs, or any harmful procedure to the female genitalia, for non medical reasons

According to WHO, FGM has been classified into four major types,

  • Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
  • Excision: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are “the lips” that surround the vagina).
  • Infibulation: narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.
  • Other: all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.

Several efforts/approaches have been brought forth to end FGM in Kenya. The enactment of the Anti-FGM Act in 2011 paved way for the formation of the Anti-FGM Board. The Board headed by Dr. Linah Jebii Kilimo has the mandate

“To prohibit the practice of female genital mutilation, to safeguard against violation of a person’s mental or physical integrity through the practice of female genital mutilation and for connected purposes”

The government through its constitution, passed the Children’s Act, 2001 which protects children from harmful cultural rites and which specifically states

“No person shall subject a child to female circumcision, early marriage or other cultural rites, customs or traditional practices that are likely to negatively affect the childs life, health, social welfare or physical or psychological development” (Kenya 2001,Sec. 14)

NGOs continue to sensitize communities on effects of FGM. Communities like the Maasai have opted for alternative rites of passage

The media is also coming in to bridge the awareness creation gap. I believe FGM will be totally wiped out in Kenya.

A journey starts with a mile……