‘Why I report On SRHR,’ African Award-Winning Journalists Speak.

Logan, Abdel Aziz, Abdoulaye- some of the award winning journalists

For a very long time in Africa, Sex and related subjects have been deemed taboo. They could never be discussed openly. The scenario is slowly changing such that currently, subjects around sexual and reproductive health can be discussed within various groups including homes, churches and on media platforms very openly.

However, Journalists have played a major role in disseminating information, demystifying myths around sexual subjects which in turn spurred various conversations through their coverage, debates and interviews. Though they mention that it has not been easy covering such a sensitive subject. Some even risked losing their jobs for highlighting contentious issues such as contraception, abortion and LGBTQI rights! It took only the bold and passionate journalists to uncover the realities beneath the Sexual and Reproductive Health world.

During the recent awards ceremony held in Kigali on the sidelines of International Conference Family Planning (ICFP), award winning journalists shared reasons as to why they chose to report on health matters particularly sexual and reproductive health;

‘My mother got pregnant and gave birth to me at 14. Her education and dreams were greatly disrupted. She took time out to take care of me. My dad was on the other hand free to continue with education and pursue his dream. Which he did quite well. He even pursued further studies abroad and finally got a good job. I write from a place of painful understanding. Had my mum known much around contraception, she would not have deferred her education. She would have exploited her fullest potential. As such, many girls fail to achieve their dreams and full potential due to early pregnancies. A pregnancy can be the only thing that stands between ones’ dream” Said Joyce Chimbi, Winner Print Feature Article 750 words, From Kenya.

Moses Chifwembe, Runners up print feature 2500 words said, “While I loved sports and sports reporting, I was totally blind about things that happened to women and girls on the ground. But one day, I witnessed something during my work that made me switch from being a sports reporter to a health reporter. However, convincing my editor about my decision was not easy. He asked me to write three articles around the issues that I felt I wanted to cover after which he would make the decision whether to accept my request or turn it down altogether. I did as he had requested and amazingly he published all the three articles” Said Chifwembe, Zambia

On his part, Logan Koffi, Runners Up Print Feature 750 words Said “Having hailed from one of Togos’ rural areas, I saw how women and girls struggled to access health services especially reproductive health services. These women happened to be my neighbors, mother and sisters. Ten years ago, when I launched my career in journalism, I decided to focus on health reporting. Women in rural areas are adversely affected due to lack of SRH services. I am their voice. I believe that all women and girls have a right to information and access to SRH services and that no woman or girl should be denied this most important human right”

Abdel Aziz Nabaloum, Burkina Faso, winner print feature article 2500 words encouraged journalists from Africa to tell their own stories since they live and experience these issues first hand.
‘Let us tell our own stories, no one should tell them for us. We have first hand experience on issues that affect our people,’ Said Aziz

The awards ceremony sponsored by International Planned Parenthood Federation Africa Region had seven journalists across the continent scooping various prizes for their commitment to improve Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights for millions of girls and young women within the continent.

Ghana Based Journalists Commit to Relentlessly Report on Sexual, Reproductive and Health Rights Stories

Ms. Abena Acheampong, Executive Director PPAG signing up her commitment to the #RightByHer Campaign

What if we all stood right by her?

These are the sentiments that engulfed the room during the training of about 25 journalists on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) on 3rd Oct 2018 at Alisa Hotel, Accra, Ghana.

The training dubbed #RightByHer Journalist Training Workshop was coordinated by International Planned Parenthood Federation Africa Region (IPPFAR), Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana (PPAG) and sponsored by The State of African Women Report (SoAW2018) Program.

Members of the fourth estate learned terminologies around SRHR and crosscutting issues around health in Africa particularly SRHR, in relation to population and development.

The training also included an evaluation of the SRHR curriculum for journalists across Africa that is currently at its initial stage of development.

Guiding the training was a review of the State of African Women Report (SoAW) which outlines key areas around health that affect women and girls in Africa. The report further gives recommendations on the way forward to improve the lives of girls and women in Africa.

Some of the journalists partaking in the #RightByHer commitment exercise

Journalists shared some of the challenges that they experience on the ground while covering SRHR stories mainly because of the sensitivity around the topics. However, Ms. Abena Executive Director, PPAG encouraged the health reporters to engage experts as much as possible in order to shed light on these crucial yet ignored issues, that often border development.

” It is important that you understand the topics well so that you are able to break down some of the existing myths and misconceptions.” Said Abena.

Ms. Abena volunteered to offer her support along the way. “Come to us, we will help you. My staff at PPAG are knowledgeable on all areas around SRHR, they will assist you” She affirmed.

Journalists also got acquainted with progress of the Maputo Protocol on the rights of women and girls in Africa and the Maputo Plan of Action (MPoA) which is the implementation framework for the continental policy framework.

Dr. Leticia Appiah ; Executive Director, National Population Council of Ghana underscored human capital as a critical resource that governments have to harness in order to reap the demographic dividend. And that Africa’s development heavily relies on a healthy population.

“For Africa to achieve the outlined Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) and the AU Agenda 2063, we have to shift focus on improving the Sexual and Reproductive Health of all women and girls. They encompass a huge chunk of Africa’s population that has to be harnessed.” She said

Dr. Leticia Appiah, Executive Director, Population Council of Ghana addressing journalists during the training

She urged reporters to bring out the subtle SRHR issues that threaten the development of Africa.

Similarly, Mark Okundi, Programs Officer at #RightByHer program urged reporters to use their pens as barrels to hold governments accountable on the commitments that they make around health and gender policies.

“It is your duty to probe our leaders on the commitments they make as they sign some of these regional charters and documents.” Advised Mr. Okundi.

The journalists also joined the IPPF Journalists Network team as new champions for the #RightByHer. They signed up their commitment messages for the #RightByHer movement and joined the existing champions from Kenya, Togo, Burkina and Cameroon who were also present during the training.

Mark Okundi, Programs Officer #RightByHer taking journalists through the training

The training took place on the sidelines of the Review of the Addis Ababa Declaration on Population and Development (AADPD) which also has clear reservations on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights for Women and Girls in Africa.

Men, Share Family Planning Responsibilities…

Photo courtesy; IPPFAR

For a very long time, family planning has had a feminine face. It has been left as a female issue. Africa is a patriarchal society where men make almost all decisions but it’s amazing how they become adamant when it comes to making decisions about family planning at household level. Honestly, if only men were involved and informed about the use of contraceptives, we would be at a better place, as a society.

Men lack information about contraceptives. While there exist only two contraceptive methods for them; condoms and vasectomy, their adaptation and use is quite low. In July this year, during the World Population Day (WPD), 94 men accessed vasectomy services because they were well informed about the services. More advocacy has to be carried out to reach more men.

Men are central when it comes to family planning programs at all levels. They need to start learning at an early age. They all have a responsibility when it comes to pregnancies and spacing the number of children.

Realistically, if men embraced well the use of contraceptives then we would have fewer unintended and unplanned teenage pregnancies, we would have fewer unsafe abortion cases, we would have healthy stable families where children are well spaced , we would have fewer maternal deaths, we would have fewer cases of HIVAids and STIs transmission.

Many a times men have been heard ‘denying’ pregnancies some claiming that they only had sex once with the woman. How naïve of them! They then disappear from the woman’s life leaving her depressed, confused and vulnerable! Weighing their current situation, some women are left with the battle of whether to carry on with the pregnancy or to terminate. Some even decide to end their lives all together!

With the current tough economic times, it’s time men took up the mantle. It is time they changed their attitude towards Family Planning. Besides, FP is related to sustainable development. High population density puts pressure on the fewer available resources.

The extend to which young people are empowered to make informed decisions about their bodies and lives, to live free from HIV and other STIs, to avoid unintended teenage pregnancies, early marriage and the negative consequences to their health, education and their well being would ultimately determine the realization of the Demographic Dividend in Africa and in turn the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Therefore governments need to ensure that we have enough budgeting to take care of our Sexual Reproductive Health needs for its people.

FGM Campaign under scrutiny:Kenya

 


By Lorna Andisi 

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Photo Courtesy

This year marks seven years since the law prohibiting the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was passed in Kenya-The Anti-FGM Act 2011; an achievement that was celebrated across the country and beyond. The significant move was to mark the beginning of emancipation if not reprieve for thousands of girls who were at high risk of undergoing FGM and probable early marriage; deep rooted cultures among certain communities in Kenya.
Alongside the new law criminalizing FGM, a specific institution was put in place; The Kenya Anti-FGM Board with the aim of coordinating activities and programs that would accelerate the abandonment of the practice. As part of its mandate, the Board and its partners has been instrumental in supporting directly or indirectly all programs geared towards rooting out the practice. Both government and non-governmental organizations carried out workshops to sensitize communities, judges, magistrates and the police about the law and the legal pathways. The media also played its role in creation of awareness. The public is currently more aware about FGM being a human rights violation and a good number of perpetrators are aware of the consequences that might befall them if caught.

The campaign also attracted support from different development actors. Both bilateral and multilateral donors curved in to accelerate efforts towards the abandonment of FGM practice. In particular, UN agencies made and followed through with commitments to elbow their support in actualizing the new law. This double advantage of the law and donor funds provided Anti FGM civil society actors working at both the national and mostly grassroot level the much-needed impetus to push through campaigns.

In the era of the world wide web and social media, the onslaught on FGM found useful collaborators. Activists mostly young people and key board warriors (bloggers & vloggers) bought into and promoted various aspects of the campaign. Creating presence and visibility, these new media activists propelled anti-FGM conversations thus keeping the campaign fresh and adaptable to the emerging changes.
Amidst these positive developments, there have been instances where the campaign faltered leading to poorly conceptualized and executed strategies, individual benefit, unclear outcomes and reverse capture. This article attempts to unravel some of these short comings. Material was sourced from individual interviews, Social media posts, personal experiences and various documented reports.
Insufficient Data
The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) documents that the national prevalence of FGM has been on a steady decline from a high of 32 per cent in 2003 and 27 per cent in 2008/9 to stand at 21 per cent in 2014. However, these figures betray the fact that Kenya lacks a well-established FGM baseline or a monitoring framework.

Similarly, a briefing note published by UNFPA and UNICEF in 2015 showed female genital mutilation prevalence remained very high amongst the Somali (at 94%), Samburu (86%), Kisii (84%), and Maasai at (78%). This report however failed to indicate the prevalence of FGM in the other communities that carry out the practice.

The big question is, has any impactful gain in the fight against FGM been made? Whereas the KDHS numbers shown above indicate that there is a significant change, in the communities, this change is not reflected.

In most instances, organizations seemed to have data that only catered for their own narrow interests. Other cases pointed to lack of well aggregated data related to effects of FGM such as data on maternal mortality caused by FGM in specific practicing communities.

This lack of sufficient solid quantitative data indicates that organizations are spending donor resources that are not well backed by tangible evidence.

Furthermore, where data related to FGM has been captured, for instance prosecutions and convictions under the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, it has not been used effectively to influence budgets, improve programming and policy enforcement.

This lack of evidence-based programming is also a result of the low threshold set by donors, who are more interested in activity-based approach towards ending FGM as opposed to impact based.

 

Briefcase Organizations

With both the law in place and available funds dedicated to eradicating FGM, both national and grassroots organizations emerged with dubious intentions. Even though various quotas have had knowledge of their existence, it is until recent that the Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS), in the Ministry of Public Service, Gender and Youth: Hon Rachel Shebesh publicly condemned them and said that the government had launched a crackdown to nab them.

Similar media reports have also been made regarding the same issue.

Steve Letoo, 30, from Oloitoktok, Kajiado County revealed that he was shocked at how ‘a particular organization’ has been exploiting locals most of whom are illiterate. Steve being a little internet savvy said,

“I am always shocked by the kind of work this guy says he does on Facebook and twitter. It’s nothing but Public Relations. There is no significant work on the ground. He takes photos of poor girls and posts them on Facebook and twitter claiming he is supporting them. If you question him he becomes angry.”

Similarly, The Youth Anti-FGM Network Kenya was described as not only ineffective but also inefficient. The network launched in 2015 had a bigger vision of ending FGM in Kenya by bringing together young people from FGM affected communities around the country to consolidate efforts towards ending the practice out of the country but that dream is far from being realized. Its flamboyance on social media is nothing close to what the real network does.
According to a former member, the networks’ vision was quickly muffled after they ‘sold their souls’ to an Options UK program in Kenya. Though most of the members were opposed to the move that would jeopardize their vision, anyone voicing contrary opinion was quickly ousted from the group by the leaders. Currently the network is known to have two active members one based in Nairobi and the chairperson based in Garissa, Kenya. The chairperson has very little concern about fighting the FGM practice out of his community let alone the country. In flagrant case of abuse of office, the said chairperson is evidently absent pursuing personal interests. in essence, no significant impact can be measured since the launch of the network.

 

Misappropriation of Funds

Another significant shortcoming relates to grassroots organizations that have been known to misuse funds meant for saving girls from the cut. In Loitoktok Kajiado, we unraveled that a popular Community Based Organization whose founder is conspicuously missing from the community after embezzling almost 1M shillings received from The Girl Generation grant kitty, monies that were meant to run a project aimed at bringing together morans to dialogue towards the end of FGM in Loitoktok. He represents many more individuals who walk scot-free after committing such crimes.

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The conversation that started a few weeks ago with the above tweet has revealed that there is a lot of business going on in the disguise of advocacy to end FGM. It sparked a lot of reactions from locals and even the international front and especially complaints that these organizations are exploiting girls and women. Here are a few reactions:

 

 

What is apparent is that trips and conferences are viewed as an avenue by campaigners to earn per diems, tour the world, shop and mingle in the name of ending FGM.
Another emerging issue relates to the programme design whereby significant amount of funds were expended on operational costs in donor countries rather than on actual programme work in recipient countries. Case in point was the Global Media Campaign, which has an office in the UK but has no physical address in Africa. This not only creates a distance between them and the communities where they supposedly work but also complicates activists’ relationship with regulatory authorities.
Deceptive Strategies
Whereas there have been some strategies designed to end FGM that actually proved to work with much felt/measurable impact on the ground, others ended up creating more harm than good. This was especially with regards to top down strategies that either lacked community input or were not community led. In essence, the campaign against FGM was more opportunistic and not strategic. This was especially true for a number national CSO’s which stumbled on the campaign only to later abandon FGM programming and targeted communities altogether. Among the most prominent was Maendeleo ya Wanawake which changed course mid-stream in 2013, thus denying the campaign its vast grassroot network.
Narrating a deceptive strategy, a village elder, Peter Lemaiyan 78, Samburu East, expressed disappointment about an incident that took place in December 2017. According to the elder, girls from his community were ferried to an apparently very big alternative rites of passage ceremony without his knowledge. He also said that the girls’ parents were unaware that their girls were going for the ceremony, only to be misinformed that it was normal vacation studies. On learning about the occasion at their return, he became very angry and ordered for their cut the very night. Defiant girls were cursed and up to date he has not lifted the curse that he cast upon them.
He said that local administration officers across Samburu are aware and also benefit from the so called alternative rites of passage ceremonies and the games involved. He has warned activists from his community to disassociate with the two big organizations that claim to be saving girls yet they are using them for their own gains.
Speaking to a local activist and survivor from Samburu who asked for anonymity, she said that such phoniness has made it hard for genuine activists to be trusted by locals thereby making their work so difficult. She however urges NGOs to consider working with activists on the ground for they know best what can possibly work in their respective communities.
Parsanka Saiyanka, an activist from Kajiado terms the same strategy deceptive, a lie. He says;

“It’s unfortunate that this is being driven by big NGOs here. The community knows that the girls are already cut. This makes them think badly of us, that we are not genuine. It’s a very selfish way of doing things. Anything cultural cannot be fixed this way, it must be dialogued”

My investigation revealed that a recent ARP ceremony in Indupa, Kilonito, Kajiado West that claimed to have ‘saved’ over 300 girls from FGM was a lie, the locals are very aware that only 2 girls in the whole village are uncut, and it’s only because they have not attained the right age, for FGM here is 100%.
Another major concern regarding anti-FGM campaigns stemmed from the temporary nature of activities characterized by short bursts of intensity that quickly fade. In this regard, numerous conferences have been organized in the name of “sharing experiences” which never cascade to the micro level where it matters. This is because a lot of the anti-FGM actors prefer to work in silos and with a lot of opacity.
Conclusion
According to the Paris Declaration on aid effectiveness, two of the major objectives of good aid include;

  • fostering recipient’s ownership of development policies and strategies;
  • improving aid transparency and mutual accountability of donors and recipients.

The emerging scenario in the anti-FGM campaigns point to a lack of ownership of strategies because of poor conceptualization, lack of research and over reliance on dubious grassroot organizations/ individuals not based in the respective communities. The anti-FGM campaign has also created a less transparent relationship between donors, implementers and communities. In effect, donor funding has fostered strong resentment of genuine development aid organizationsand actors in practicing communities. This is contrary to the principles of do no harm.

What this brief has unraveled has ended up raising more questions than answers. The scrutiny of the anti-FGM campaign in Kenya was not meant to be exhaustive as that would require more time and resources. Some of the questions that would require further interrogation are elucidated below;

 

KEY QUESTIONS ARISING
➢Does the Anti-FGM Board, an institution mandated with regulating and coordinating activities and programs that are meant to drive the practice away have the requisite capacity?
➢Do donors carry out audits and perform due diligence before dispatching funds?
➢Do funding models consider the amount of money lost before reaching the ultimate beneficiary?
➢Do most of these programs have a sustainability model or are they just touch and go thereby exploiting communities?
And finally, do anti-FGM campaigners really want FGM to end? Does it mean that if the funding stops then the campaigners will stop doing their work in the communities? What motivates anti-FGM campaigners to continue doing their work?

“Talking Boxes” a voice for Kibera girls

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Eva Bowa, Program Officer, Polycom Development Project Opening up one of the talking boxes at Spurgeons Primary School.

Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya…

Off Olympic road on the left, a busy, noisy street punctuated with tiny squeezed shops on both sides. Pedestrians briskly walking up and down as though they are running late for something……Both men and women vendors consumed in their daily hustles……Piercing noises and fire sparks by welders springing across the road…..Smell of fried ‘chapatis’ and ‘mandazis’ consuming the air around while screams of children playing at a nearby school-Olympic primary school-engulfing the whole neighborhood ……. This street will lead you to a Centre of hope and voice for thousands of young girls and adolescents living in Kibera.

300 Metres, right before the street takes a mighty curve. You will find a ruby rugged gate, paint peeled off. Not to judge. What lies inside is much greater-Polycom Development Project office. Err…Still hard to figure out what goes on there? On a closer look signs displayed on the door and walls- ‘Speak Out!… ‘Sitakimya’ meaning ‘I won’t be silenced’ suggest that it is an empowerement Centre. Right guess!

A charming Jane Anyango- Director Polycom Development Project, seated at the furthest corner right after you enter the building will gladly fill you in about what the project is all about..

Polycom Development project is one unique project that was started to ‘break the silence’ on Sexual, Gender Based Violence among children and adolescents in Kibera.

The project adopted a secretive ‘talking box’ approach to allow girls who would otherwise shy away from sharing their issues (especially GBV related) to confidently draft a note and drop it in the emblematic box.

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A sample of a note from Spurgeons primary school, talking box

In an interview with Jane at her Office, she revealed to me that the innocent project started seven years ago and was piloted in 14 schools, which after one year it scaled down to 7 schools, because some schools did not embrace it well and also some parents were against the initiative citing that it was a project meant to ‘use their children’ . She did not lose hope.

She further confirmed that they are currently working within 16 schools and are scaling up to 34 more schools which will bring the total number to 50 schools, thanks to her recent partner, UNFPA Kenya.

She said that at first, they used carton boxes which did not function well because dubious persons broke into the boxes and stole the notes. She later got a volunteer who made wooden boxes with safety padlocks but they still do not guarantee 100% safety.

She is glad about the recent partnership with UNFPA Kenya, for they have pledged to support production of 50 metallic boxes that will guarantee, not only safety but longevity.

Benefits of the ‘talking boxes’

 

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Teachers, pupils Spurgeons Primary School

Teacher Rose Okeya also a counsellor and Social Worker at Spurgeons Primary School- A beneficiary of the project, confirmed that the project has brought about behavior change among pupils. She has observed girls at the school being able to open up and speak out on all issues ranging from SGBV, Sexual Reproductive Health and menstrual matters. Additionally, with follow up, she has observed girls perform well in studies.

She said that the project has been able to detect, curb and resolve issues raised, most common being issues of gender based violence, especially sexual harassment among peers in school, including sexual harassment by teachers, guardians and neighbors.

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Another note!

For issues that require much more attention the project reaches out to relevant persons or authorities for further help.

The project has been very successful. We have beautiful success stories and we are in fact coming up with our own research to challenge existing results.’ Said Jane.

Jane observed that while dealing with cases of SGBV, a lot of focus is always directed to perpetrators than survivors. She called upon donors and service providers to understand the importance of working with survivors, for they bear the pain. Especially cases where the victim might never access Justice whenever the family resorts to resolving the issue amicably- which is a normal avenue for resolving GBV cases within family set up.

Jane always urges parents, during parents-teacher meetings not to be very harsh to their children. She encourages them to be friendly with their children in order to establish rapport with them. The amicable environment will enable them to share their issues freely. Above all, she urges them to create time for their children amid their busy schedules . She understands that the economic burden and the need to provide is huge on them but they have to sacrifice some time for their children.. Her dream is to see the project expand beyond Kibera.

The Ultimate Price of FGM

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A Maasai girl enjoying a good time with a newly born goat

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a human rights violation, torture and an extreme form of violence and discrimination against girls and women-There is no subtle way to describe it!

Sadly, according to World Health Organization (WHO), more than 200 million girls and women GLOBALLY have undergone FGM, worse still, if current trends continue 15 million girls (between ages 15-19) are at risk of undergoing FGM by 2030. In addition, there are numerous documented cases of girls dying each year due to complications arising from FGM but substantial is difficult to come by.

Contrary to popular belief that FGM is ‘a cultural issue”, in reality, it has socio-economic consequences which impacts on the health, education, livelihoods and general well-being of girls and women. In the course of my activism as well as journalism in Kenya, I have come face to face with the impact of FGM on girls and women among the various communities that still perpetuate the practice.

FGM has been deemed to ‘benefit’ girls and women by ensuring chastity and cleanliness as well as a rite of passage in actual sense it is a perpetuation of misogyny, vicious and violent expressions of patriarchy and sexism that lead to the psychological and physical abuse of women.

Without exception, young girls and women carry the economic burden of FGM since the practice denies them an opportunity to access education thus limiting their chances of being economically productive. Moreover lack of education hinders girls from securing formal employment and limits the nature of livelihood activities they can engage in.

Another issue underpinning the continuation of FGM is the equation of girls to commodities. For instance among the Rendile, Pokot and Maasai (pastoralist) communities in Kenya, it is common practice to trade off girls as dowry and as way of replacing livestock lost during drought or through rustling.  As a result, a girl’s education and future is sacrificed at the expense of her father’s quest for wealth.

By the same token, it is well known that circumcisers, often older ladies, have continued the practice not because of their ‘strong’ belief in culture but purely as a means of eking a living out of innocent girls.  For instance, a year ago, a renowned but now reformed cutter, confessed during an interview with me, that she had made so much money out of her business, spanning 30 years. She boasted of having built a permanent house; one of the best in the village. Unfortunately this wealth has been accumulated against a backdrop of over 5000 girls cut- most of whom eventually dropped out of school and are married off at young ages. (https://andisilorna.wordpress.com/2016/12/20/the-chief-ex-cutters-diary-why-i-dropped-the-knife/)

The practice of FGM is also perpetuated by social institutions in practicing communities. In this regard, local level authorities, charged with the responsibility of arresting FGM perpetrators are routinely bribed. One such revelation, from a Chief I interviewed, who confessed of having made ‘a few’ coins of the practice. In deed it emerged that it is common practice for cutters, parents and community elders to bribe chiefs and police to shield them especially during the cutting ceremonies. Additionally, it has been widely documented that most perpetrators walk out of cells scot free for lack of sufficient evidence to support prosecution. In most instances, politicians have been known to interfere with criminal cases by bribing officials who in turn release the perpetrators by slapping a mild cash bail after which most cases fade away.

Lastly, and on a disappointing note, I have heard of individuals purporting to run grassroots organizations that advocate against the practice yet they are a sham. They have no real intentions of ending the practice and only use their organizations as a conduit to make money out of the poor girls!

Should I also mention schemes by dorner organizations that fake reports to earn donations -that purpose to save these girls but end up misusing the funds? I will leave that to Graham Hancock- Author Lords of Poverty.

Sounds like a scheme right? But the reality for far too many girls and women in Kenya and around the world . Women and girls continue to pay the price of FGM and the price remains way too high!

But then who therefore pays the ultimate price of FGM. I guess you now have th

 

Also published at Girls Globe

 

 

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The conversation around the practice of FGM has to change!

26 year old woman from Musenke, Magadi ( Photo from my media Library)

Why am I saying this?

Seventy odd days have passed since the year 2017 began and reflecting on the past years campaigns against FGM and early marriages, it is true that all who are involved have walked a long distance. There have been moments where the campaign may have faltered and made missteps but also some significant progress has been registered. In the course of writing and campaigning as well as visiting various communities across the country where FGM is practiced, I can attest that activists are increasingly encountering subtle resistance.
A revisionist movement is slowly but surely pushing the envelope, challenging some of the long held reasons advanced in campaigns against FGM as well as approaches that seem not to fit with their local context. As such the conversation at the national level is not yielding much needed results at the community level.

How is this possible, given the resources that are being channeled and renewed vigor among activists? Just to illustrate this, sometime in 2016 during an event dubbed the Maasai 7s event in Kajiado, a group of elite young men from universities; The Maasai Students Association, revealed to me that they still encourage and uphold the practice of FGM citing that their work involves moving around schools encouraging girls to continue with school after the practice. Many activists would contend that this is a big fat lie because the fact on the ground is that FGM among the Maasai prepares a woman mentally for marriage and there is very little chance that the girl will pursue education after the cut!

Another illustration relates to a separate visit, to Garissa where the FGM prevalence stands at 97%. Here the recurring challenge arising relates to the notion that somehow FGM affects child births. During community conversations, I have heard many women dispute the health effects of the practice citing that they have actually been able to give birth to many children despite the cut! One woman from Garissa told me that she underwent type 3 form of FGM (infubilation) and she prides in the birth of her 10 children. According to Kenneth Odary of Research Triangle Africa (RTA), such uninformed sentiments coupled with official statistics that reveal that there is indeed a higher birth rate and population growth diminish the credibility of some long held facts on the dangers of FGM.

Another recent illustration coming barely a week is, while in Narok during a youth forum where a young man from the group stood up and insisted that his two daughters will go through FGM and that until someone gives him better reasons why he should not, he was not going to defy his culture to impress anyone. Baffling as he sounded, he represents a majority out here!

These are but few examples of the subtle resistance and revisionist statements that activists have to contend with while in the field. Such is the dilemma, which in many private conversations has been suggestions for a holistic approach which not only tackles the known health and social-cultural issues but also frames them within the broader social economic and political context.

For instance, recently there was a voter registration exercise that took place in Kenya and various political factions were competing to register voters. Unknown to some of these groups is that only a third of women who currently comprise over half the population of Kenya are registered to vote! This is largely as a result of many women lacking the crucial national identity card as result of being forced into early marriages common with girls who have undergone FGM but also dropped out of school.

According to Kenneth Odary, this implies that in Kenya’s tribal driven politics, communities practicing FGM are deprived of the critical numbers needed to bargain for power and resources at the National level. Besides, given their low level of education attainment, such women may be unable to countenance the importance of voting as their democratic right enshrined in our constitution even upon attaining the age of maturity. As such the political class ought to be targeted as part of anti-FGM campaigns and sold a different narrative which serves both their personal ambitions and community interests!

Politics aside, women’s pursuit of their socio-economic rights is largely hampered as a result of harmful cultural practices of FGM and early marriages. For instance, In Kenya, without a national identity card, a woman can be deprived of the opportunity to access affirmative action funds made available by government such as the youth fund, women’s fund and Uwezo fund.

This against a backdrop where research has continuously shown that women in Kenya have demonstrated greater fiducial responsibility with regards to micro-finance loans. In the same token, in a world where digital presence has become the norm, a woman without her national ID cannot register for a simple mobile phone sim card! Which in the current setting is more than just a communication tool.

In this regard, activists ought to generate data that appeals to micro-finance institutions, banks and mobile money companies and therefore walk hand in hand in anti FGM campaigns.

In addition, access to health while it remains a right is also compromised if one cannot access the National Health Insurance Fund as a result of lacking a national identity card. Besides, without an ID, women are less likely to own property especially during succession matters. Lack of an ID also inhibits their ability to engage in business not forgetting movement within and out of Kenya! As such many women as a result of underage marriages occasioned by FGM remain marginalized and trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty or what Eva Komba, a Gender and Development Specialist, describes as feminization of poverty. Thereby a woman who is poor is unlikely to better the life of her own children. Thus activists must purpose to fate their strategies and approaches along gender and sustainable development processes locally, nationally and globally.

These examples here are but a fraction of the numerous doses of reality that relate to the women at the community level that can be generated to re-energize the anti FGM crusade and make it more holistic. Thus funding for activities need to strategically shift from arguments about why FGM is wrong published in little fact sheets distributed during conferences to the broader socio economic and political impact of this practice.

Linkages should be made between the anti-FGM campaigns and development strategies such as Kenya’s vision 2030, Planet 50/50, Agenda 2063 and the sustainable development goals (SDG). According to Kenneth Odary, linking FGM to national, regional and global priorities that men care about may be what is needed to overcome some of the harmful cultural practices.

While on his tour in Kenya, UN General Secretary, Antonio Guterres, reminded the world, during International Women’s Day and simultaneous launch of the AU campaign to end child/forced marriage that no country will achieve its full development agenda without full integration of women and girls!

North-South Cooperation in Fighting FGM with new Strategies

Nice Nailentei Leng’ete (Left)- Amref Ambassador with Laura Boldrini (Right) handshaking during a private meeting in Italy. (Photo Courtesy: Nice Leng’ete)

In recent years, it has become evident that international cooperation is important in promoting inclusive and sustainable development, especially in view of achieving internationally agreed upon development agendas. African countries recognize the importance of these partnerships for enhancing and consolidating the growth of the continent.

As such, many African states have benefitted from the traditional North-South cooperation, through the sharing of experiences, technical assistance as well as cooperation on the part of other developing and emerging countries. It is along such lines that the Anti FGM campaign has been able to pick up the much necessary momentum after years of lip service.

Whereas the campaign against FGM has had a long history, it has for a long time been confined to board rooms and workshops with little by way of targeted grassroots campaigns. For instance as recent as 2010 Kenya did not have an official policy addressing FGM and relied upon Presidential decrees. However with the Anti-FGM policy put in place, 2011, there has been considerable investment of resources and strategies from the North.

How did this happen? A number of factors have been combined to bring about the necessary north-south cooperation. For instance in the south, Kenya like many African countries had for years grossly underfunded many women centered development priorities. The promulgation of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010, changed the scene. This supreme law called for an end to harmful cultural practices and was quickly followed by the enactment of the Anti FGM act. The legislation provided for an institution- The Anti-FGM Board- with the mandate to undertake public education on the dangers and legal consequences of carrying out the practice, but which unfortunately remained underfunded to meet the demand of its mandate.

In the north, the international immigration crisis brought FGM to the doorstep of the developed north. Waves of migrants from nations that practice FGM began arriving and settling and with it brought their deep-rooted cultural practices such as FGM. Whereas the developed north had hitherto been known to only condemn the practice, the changing dynamics required a more proactive approach both home and abroad.

It is in this context that a new impetus to fund anti-FGM work at the grassroots by organizations based in the north came about.  Notably the Guardian Media UK launched an EndFGM Academy, 2015, in some of the FGM affected Africa countries (Kenya, The Gambia and Nigeria). The Guardian pioneered in identifying and training of young activists on the use of both new and traditional media to end FGM.

The use of media has been a powerful tool in influencing perceptions and educating people about the realities of FGM. The media has also broadened the engagement platform, reach and visibility of anti FGM efforts. The use of activists has on the other hand built upon young people who are playing a leadership role in the community and have what it takes to be future opinion leaders and shapers in their respective communities.
Similarly ,The Girl Generation, an Africa led global movement aimed at ending FGM within a generation, focuses on building a critical mass for change which helps unlock regional, national and international commitments to increase resources that can sustain and scale up efforts to end the practice. Among its approaches is the use of ambassadors, youth networks and social change communication-(transforming social norms underpinning the practice of FGM) which is in effect causing a good trickle-down effect of reaching practicing communities.

The use of networks has created much needed synergy and momentum required in the campaign to end FGM while the use of ambassadors has built upon individuals who have scaled up FGM campaign to national and global attention.

Among other notable strategies include Alternative rites of Passage (ARPs) spearheaded by AMREF Health, in Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia. ARPs allows a girl to safely transition to womanhood without undergoing the emotional and physical risk of FGM whilst preserving a communities’ culture. ARPs has been adopted by the United Nations as a model of eradicating FGM.

Another approach which has registered significant efforts and currently being undertaken in Djibouti, Mali, Guinea, Senegal, Somalia, The Gambia, and Mauritania is Tostan. Tostan is a human rights Community Empowerment Program that allows community members to draw their own conclusions about FGM and lead their own movements for change. The program also focuses on community public declarations which are critical in the process for abandonment and necessary for building critical mass, eventually leading FGM to becoming a thing of the past.

Elsewhere, 28TooMany is consistently working on research around Africa where FGM is practiced (28countries) and across the diaspora. They also advocate for the global eradication of FGM and work closely with other organizations in the violence against women sector. Research and data is a crucial element that tactically guides Anti-FGM strategies and campaign.

UNICEF/UNFPA joint program accelerates abandonment in Africa and Arab countries where it works by using a human rights- based and culturally sensitive approach. The program also supports health and protective services for those adversely affected. Initiated in 2007, the joint program aims at strengthening National Policies/legislations, training health practitioners on FGM response and care, public declarations of abandonment by communities and declarations by both religious and traditional leaders disowning any religious requirement of FGM.

Together with Member States, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted resolution 67/146: Intensifying Global Efforts for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilations. Co- sponsored by 150 countries, the resolution underscored the fact that the practice of FGM/C is a violation of the human rights of women and girls and called for stronger global efforts to end it.

FGM sometimes threatens the lives of girls and women, thereby violating their human rights to life, liberty, and security of the person. Additionally, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa explicitly recognize that practices harmful to women such as FGM are violations of human rights.

The Africa Union 4th Conference of Ministers of Social development launched a campaign to End Child Marriage in its member states. The campaign has already been launched in 12 out of the 15 member countries. It is important to note that in most communities, the practice of FGM more often than not precedes early/forced marriage.

What these efforts have in common is the support in terms of resources and financing that is coming from the north with campaigns being led by local activists many of whom are beginning to gain the attention for their efforts in eradicating FGM in their countries

The North- South cooperation has resulted in accelerated efforts to end FGM evident in the recent ban of FGM in countries like Nigeria and The Gambia.  A drop in FGM overall statistics in some countries, Public Community declarations are some of the tangible results that can be recorded. Non tangible results can be quantified in the increased reportage of FGM cases, a surge in involvement of young people and institutions in Anti-FGM Campaigns, increased awareness, launch of regional campaigns such as the Saleema Campaign in Sudan, Not in My Name campaign in Sierra Leone and the global He for She campaign.

One of the biggest setback in eliminating FGM is medicalization of the practice. Currently more than 18% of all FGM is performed by healthcare providers and the disturbing trend is only increasing.  Medicalization of FGM wrongfully legitimates the procedures and can contribute to the damaging perception that FGM is right. FGM practice no matter who carries them on still represent a major human rights violations. In effect, some governments have passed bills that include revoking of licenses by doctors and nurses that perform FGM, Kenya being a good example.

Prevalence of FGM

It is estimated that about 100-140 million women worldwide have undergone FGM, with an additional three million girls and women undergoing the procedure every year.  FGM is prevalent in about 28 African countries and among a few minority groups in Asia. Prevalence varies significantly from one country to another.  For example, the prevalence rate is 92% in Mali, compared to 28% in Senegal.  In addition, there are many immigrant women in Europe, Canada, and the United States who have undergone FGM.  It is estimated that 15% of all circumcised women have undergone the most severe form of FGM: infibulation, which involves the stitching and narrowing of the vaginal opening-approximately 80% to 90% of all circumcisions in Djibouti, Somalia and Sudan are of this type.

Twelve industrialized countries that receive immigrants from countries where FGM is practiced include; Australia, Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, and United States have passed laws criminalizing the practice.  In Australia, six out of eight states have passed laws against FGM.  In the United States, the federal government and 17 states have criminalized the practice.

One country France has relied on existing criminal legislation to prosecute both practitioners of FGM and parents procuring the service

TOGETHER TO END FGM

Kenyan Youth Officially Launch a National Anti-FGM Youth Network

Members of the Kenya Anti-FGM Youth Network celebrating the launch #YouthPower

 On 17th August 2016, a number of young males and females from Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) practicing communities around Kenya congregated at the Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) to officially launch a National Anti-FGM Network under a trending hashtag #YouthPower!
The event was sponsored by The Girl Generation (TGG), an Africa led campaign that aims at eliminating FGM in one generation among Africa countries. Led by Global Director Dr. Faith Mwangi-Powell, TGG was happy to partner with the visionary youths in Kenya to end FGM. In her recorded video speech, Dr. Faith said that she will be a mentor to the young people and that she will continuously support their projects and activities geared towards eliminating the practice. She encouraged the network members to converge all their unique talents and abilities towards fighting FGM.

The high energy and colorful ceremony also brought together other partners and stakeholders whose core goal is to end FGM in Kenya. They included; Chairperson Anti-FGM Board, Dr.Jebii Kilimo, Office of The Director Of Public Prosecution, Ms. Christine Nanjala, Child Protection Unit, UNICEF Kenya, Mr. Bernard Kuria.

The celebration was kicked off with a lively music performance by Dennis Mugiira, YWCA Youth Representative followed by another music performance from one of the network member Solomon Mtunasi whose music piece speaks on the adverse effects caused by FGM. The song titled ‘Ukeketaji ni hatari’ Swahili phrase, meaning ‘FGM is quite harmful’ is meant to urge perpetrators of the act to abandon the practice. After the hyped performance, he paved way for the Chairperson of the Network, Mr. Omar Nasteh.

Mr. Omar Nasteh, Chaiperson Kenya Anti-FGM Youth Network giving his welcome remarks

Mr. Omar started off by welcoming and thanking all partners who were present. In his welcoming remarks, he pointed out that FGM is a global issue and that it concerns everyone. ‘Everyone is an ambassador to their community,’ Said Mr. Omar. ‘We will encounter various challenges in our journey to end FGM but that will not discourage us,’ He added. Omar who hails from a high prevalence region; Kenya’s Somali community where the practice is at 93% (highest in Kenya) was happy to be part of a movement that he believes will offer him a great platform to galvanize his community towards abandoning the practice. He for sure was happy about his position as the chairperson for the network. He promised to give his team great support and strategic direction towards realizing its vision.
Taking over was Bernard Kuria, UNICEF Kenya, in his presentation he expounded on the changing social norms surrounding FGM. He started by sharing the statistics mainly the FGM county and national statistics in relation to child marriage numbers. Currently, The Kenya Demographic Health Survey {KDHS 2014} reveals that FGM prevalence is at 21%,  a 6% drop over the past decade.

Bernard highlighted that there are various myths surrounding the practice of FGM and that all are mere social constructs that can only be changed through education. He too urged men to join in the fight.

Christine Nanjala, ODPP, assured members on the implementation of the Anti-FGM Act. She said that her office is currently keeping track of FGM cases and that they are able to release monthly reports. She insisted that everyone has a role to play to ensure that FGM perpetrators are brought to book. She also pointed out that her department is quite aware of the gaps in the existing law and that they are working with the various stakeholders to ensure that the law is fully efficient.

ODPP Christine Nanjala during her speech

The otherwise jubilant room was sent to a somber mood during Alice Masinte’s speech.  Alice, one of the network member, who is an FGM survivor narrated her journey before and after the FGM act. Her sweet sour story is an inspiration to many FGM survivors; that there is a future after the cut. She was happy that through dialogue with her father she has been able to rightfully save her sisters from the cut. She, together with a few other youths from her region (Loitoktok) started a Community Based Organization; Network of Youths in Action (NOYA); a CBO that empowers young girls in primary schools to understand the effects of FGM. NOYA also works with Morans (teenage maasai warriors) under a program called Morans for Girls Education and Empowerment (M4GEE) where Morans lead in the struggle to save girls from the cut whilst championing for their education. Alice is the key ambassador for NOYA projects, she prides in her zeal to save more and more girls from the cut.

Audience inclined to Alices’ story

After Alice’s story, the rooms’ previous ambiance was restored by a music performance by Mweledi. Mweledi who is also a network member uses his music piece to urge communities to abandon gender based violence, FGM being one of them.

The ceremony was also a perfect moment to unveil the recently appointed TGG ambassadors. Hassan Adan Mulata, Peter Macharia and Seleiyan Partoip were glad to have been picked up to represent TGGs projects in Kenya. The ambassadors come from FGM practicing communities in Kenya and run grassroots organizations meant to drive out the practice.

Hamimu Masudi, TGG Kenya Cordinator, Introducing The Ambassadors

The presence of the Chairperson Anti-FGM board was loud. Dr. Jebii Kilimo was pleased by the work of the young people in Kenya. She was proud of the founding of the network sighting that it is the first ever initiative by the youths in Kenya. She was happy that such energy coupled with her dockets’ will intensify the fight to end FGM in Kenya and Africa as a whole. She urged the network members to remain objective in their struggle to eradicate FGM.  After her remarks she finally unveiled the networks new logo.

Chairperson Anti-FGM board giving her congratulatory remarks as she unveils the new logo

The logo that captures a Pan-African spirit was ceremoniously welcomed with a music performance by Francis Odhiambo (Foreman), and Rose who are also network members. The music piece that was recently released with close to 5,000 views ‘Say No to FGM’ urges everyone that they can make a difference by saying no to the practice. The piece also highlights on the effects of FGM.

‘Foreman’ and Rose performing a music piece ‘Say No to FGM’ during the unveiling of the new logo

It was evident that the youth were full of energy and that they contain various talents as well as immense ability to use the current technology to intensify the fight to end FGM. They sang and danced to the various artistes within their own network. They also tweeted every moment of the event.

ABOUT THE KENYA ANTI-FGM NETWORK

The Kenya Anti-FGM Youth Network was founded late last year (2015) as a result of strategic advice by The Girl Generation during a youth training on Monitoring and Evaluation for Social Change Communication. The network, through its member volunteerism has grown to a national movement with focal county youth representatives. It has over a short period of time spearheaded activities meant to create awareness on FGM and partnerships with other stakeholders working to end FGM. Its recent participation in the #Maasai7s Rugby event in Kajiado, Maasailand and The #MarsabitYouthChapterLaunch, Marsabit are some of the high key activities with great outputs that they have so far initiated.

The network has a yearly work plan with various activities that it aims to execute together with its targeted partners.

It is also inclusive such that it comprises of both males and females across FGM practicing communities. It remains gender sensitive by promoting equity and equality evident in its leadership structure where key positions are occupied by an equal number of males and females.

#YouthPower

Under its vision, the network hopes to not only tackle FGM but also address other pertinent issues such as Early Marriage, HIV AIDs, sexual reproductive health, climate change, youth unemployment and access to opportunities as well as other cross cutting issues around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The Challenges 

The youth encounter unsurmountable challenges in their struggle to bring about positive change in the society. Such challenges include: unequal representation in leadership and decision making processes of the countrys’ key agendas

Culturally the youth are considered voiceless. They are viewed as young and inexperienced hence not able to give valid opinion.

Additionally, the youth lack resources to propel their agendas. As much as the government allocates the budget for the youth, it remains hard for the youth to access the funds due to the massive corruption in the system.

Finally, the youth lack vehicles to push for their agendas. The now launched network is a birth of a new vehicle that will drive the envisioned goals of this network to its rightful destination.

 #YouthPower

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.