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.

 

‘I saved my wife from the cut’ Revealed Parsanka Sayianka

‘My decision not to marry a cut girl saved my wife from the cut,’ Revealed Parsanka Sayianka, Programs Manager, Illaramatak Community Concerns during my interaction with him at the recent #Maasai7s #EndFGMMaasai event.

Parsanka Sayianka was born in Elangatta Olkaputiei, a remote village in Kajiado South, Kenya. He is the second born of twelve children. His father had two wives, his mother being the first wife.

While growing up, FGM was a normal practice to him besides there was no law prohibiting the practice. Deep inside him, he felt it was a wrong practice that his community embraced as he could see girls from neighboring communities pursue education and excel in schools while girls from his village just lounging, getting cut and getting married off at very young ages. He secretly vowed to save these girls in future, when he would have the power to do so.

Parsanka grew up in a wealthy family (his father owned a fleet of livestock) but one thing that he failed to understand was why they always fed on milk throughout the year, why they dressed poorly, ate poorly and why his father never saw the need to educate them. His widowed neighbor who was regarded poor (Didn’t have livestock) on the other hand lived a contrasting lifestyle to theirs. Why? He later on understood the puzzle. His ‘rich’ family, resources were controlled by a man, and the ‘poor’ family resources were controlled by a woman.

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Parsanka Sayianka

He came to understand that women can make better homesteads if given a chance and resources.

Among his siblings, Parsanka was lucky to pursue education thanks to his elite uncle who came to pick him at four years to go to Nairobi, Kenyas Capital, to teach his children Maasai language. He interacted well with his cousins and after sometime he was enrolled to a primary school together with his cousins. After a few years, his father came back for him for he believed his son would lose his culture.

Parsanka loved school he begged his parents to enroll him back to school. His mother persuaded his father and he eventually agreed. The only nearby school, Olchoro Primary School, was 10km away, the poor boy trekked for hours to and from school sometimes compelling him to sleep at a friends place whenever the night caught him up.

He performed quite well, something that really impressed his parents such that they quickly agreed to sale livestock to enroll him to a nearby secondary school. He went to Oloitoktok secondary school and in no time he was done emerging top student and the only learned boy from the whole village. He juggled between being a student during the day and a Moran at night. Nevertheless, being a Moran taught him great values such as respect, responsibility, maturity, self-drive values that propelled him to an exemplary student in school.

Before enrolling to college, Parsanka had turned down 6 girls, 6 marriages for that matter. Every time he refused a girl, his father would part with a goat as compensation. At some point his father got very angry for depleting his goats and vowed not to consult him anymore but impose a wife on him. He would one day on his return home find a wife in his Manyatta! -In his community girls are given as a reward and exchanged for cows. Parsanka being a disciplined, smart boy, he attracted many females whose parents not only wanted to marry to a rich homestead but also to a smart boy.

He later on joined Multi Media University, then, Kenya College of Communications Technology (KCCT) where he pursued  telecommunication engineering- still being the only boy to have set foot to a secondary school and a university in his village.

In about three years, he was done with college. He volunteered to work for an organization empowering women called ‘Wings for Earth’ in Noomayianat village, Loitoktok.

Parsanka had now come of age and apparently too late not to have married-according to his culture. He still stood firm to his decision not to marry a cut girl. He believed that cutting a girl, besides the physical and psycological effects of the cut, was also violating her pleasure for sex at the expense of a man’s foolish reasons that it will keep her sexual urge low so that she remains faithful. He saw it as very selfish and marrying one would support the practice.

He had definitely set his bar very high. At that time it was impossible to find such a girl to marry especially from his community for he really wanted to marry from his community.

Well, he concentrated on his new found job few months and after a few  months he was employed as a programs manager.

His life took a turn when he met a beautiful Samburu girl from Marsabit (Rendile) who was interning as a banker in Nairobi. He developed an interest for her and immediately started dating her. Josephine Ntumarin was not cut. Bingo! Perfect match! He knew she was meant for him and he was undoubtedly going to marry her.

After one year of dating, Parsanka introduced her to his parents, he was given consent to go ahead and marry her, after all he was way too late not to have married. Now it was Josephine’s turn to introduce him to her parents. Her parents right away loved Parsanka and gave him consent to have their daughter. Josephine’s father remembered her words; that she would marry at the right time. He was very proud of her! A goat was slaughtered as a sign of acceptance. That very night, Parsanka proposed to her queen with what he considers a very expensive gold ring – that he had bought during his trip to Europe-in a Manyatta where he was to sleep.

Before dowry negotiation between the two families could begin, it was mandatory that Josephine undergoes the cut; first as a tradition and second as a prerequisite for marriage.

Earlier before the love birds had agreed to give in to each other, Parsanka had made it clear to Josephine that he will not allow her to undergo the cut. That he loved her that way and would fight the ‘stupid’ tradition to ensure that she remains that way.

Josephine had narrowly escaped the cut in the past since she was in school and whenever schools closed she chose to stay at her uncles’ place in Nairobi. Her brother too was opposed to having her married. He had turned down two marriage proposals persuading his father to let her complete school. Her brother was her keeper. He paid her tuition fees and constantly protected her. She, on the other hand worked very hard not to disappoint him.

The tussle began during the first visit to her home when Josephine uttered the ‘stupid’ words; ‘Mom, I will not undergo the cut!’ Her mother thought she was teasing. She repeated again and again. It was now clear to her mother’s ears that she meant it. How could she? Coming from a community that practices FGM, it was impossible, it was unheard of. How will her father welcome the news?  ‘Your father will not accept it! Period!’ Warned her mother. Their visit had brought both good and bad news!

They travelled back awkwardly hardly conversing. They both wanted to be role models in both their communities. Parsanka reached out to Josephine’s brother to convince his father about her sister’s decision but nothing yielded. It only worsened family relationship. ‘It became so complex!’ recalled Parsanka. Josephines’ brother quit the talks and told them he can only wish them the best.

Parsanka and her fiancée were left with one option; to do away with traditional marriage and marry the civil way, but this meant cutting links with both families. Which would have been very wrong. So this option was impractical.

They sought to go back to Josephines’ home and agree to the requirement that can only bind them together but this time be coy about it by convincing the circumciser to cut Josephine’s thigh so that the  blood that drops convinces the parents that she had gone through the cut! On arrival, he met the circumciser awaiting Josephine. The circumciser begged Parsanka to allow her perform the rightful cultural procedure and stop embarrassing his father in-law who was a respected member in the community. She refused to adhere to his tricks and feared for her life! She could only perform the real cut nothing else!

At this point Josephine’s mother was depressed, she could not eat, she developed ulcers and was in no talking terms with her husband.

The stubborn love birds returned to the city to think of another smart way out. They were withdrawn, they had lost so much weight and the situation was putting so much pressure on their relationship.

Parsanka thought of bringing his parents to negotiate dowry where he would quickly pay dowry and take off with his wife. Because by Josephine’s father accepting dowry it would automatically mean he had rightfully given off his daughter. He therefore set off to bring his father and a couple of elders to meet Josephine father. While on their way, Parsanka broke to them the news about him marrying Josephine who hadn’t gone through the cut and that they should support him before his father in-law when he brings it up during their negotiations.

Hell broke loose! Parsanka’s father was very furious for having been fooled. All this time it had never occurred to him that his daughter in-law to be was uncut! To him, she was an outcast and would never set foot in his compound again. The village elders were very furious that Parsanka had wasted their time and that he had become insane! They both threatened to cut off their journey. They could not be part of Parsanka’s mediocracy. How could they negotiate dowry of an uncut girl!

He convinced them to proceed with the journey and stick to the main agenda which was dowry negotiation. The rest he would handle.

After many hours of persuasion they agreed, in addition the elders did not want to embarrass themselves by going back home after they had packed bags and bragged to their wives about their trip.

They made it to Josephine’s home the following day. Dowry negotiation went perfect. As the negotiations came to a close, Josephine’s father  stood up and made it clear that the girl had to undergo the cut. It was taboo, the ritual was important to him more than the dowry. He requested Parsanka to stand up and admit before the elders that he would allow his wife to-be to observe the tradition. Parsanka stood up and explained how education had changed their view about many things including retrogressive cultures.

He did not move them a single bit. They stayed firm to their decision. ‘Josephine must be cut!’ reinforced her father. Well the tricky Parsanka convinced them that with both their work schedules Josephine could only be cut during her leave days since healing takes almost three weeks. They agreed to plan for leave (before their soon to be wedding) where both of them would be free to take care of each other but meanwhile they were going to settle the bride price.

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Parsanka’s Wife, Josephine Ntumarin

As soon as Parsanka was done with settling the bride price. He started planning for the wedding and now said that the cut would take place after the wedding. Haha Parsanka must be a big joker! Well, Josephine’s father declined to have the wedding ceremony of her uncut daughter carried out on his soil in Marsabit. It would put him to lifelong embarrassment. As a matter of fact, he denounced her and threatened to curse her. She was her favorite child but she had put him through enough shame compelling him to leave the village and move to his second wife’s home far away..

Parsanka and Josephine planned their wedding to take place in Loitoktok, Parsanka’s current home. They planned everything and even sent out invitation cards. Both Josephine’s parents and Parsanka’s parents declined attendance.

It took extreme external family intervention to convince them to show up for the wedding and that the cut would come afterwards. They agreed though half-heartedly.

The wedding was the biggest ever to take place in that village. The parents were given royal treatment. Josephine was finally given off!

Five years later, Josephine and Parsanka are celebrating their strong beautiful marriage and the birth of their two beautiful daughters whom of course will not undergo the cut.. Both families have come to terms with the couples decision not to ever pursue the outdated tradition. The parents have stopped bothering them anymore. In fact the two have grown to be their parents favorite children.

Josephine was later employed by the bank. Parsanka runs a community based organization called Il laramatak Community Concerns where he empowers women and saves girls from FGM.  He is happy that he has the law in place and the right support system.

Parsanka has also brought together civil societies in Kajiado to draft amendments on the law prohibiting FGM pointing out that it does not give a solution on the education and sensitization aspect of FGM as a violation of human rights. It only criminalizes the act forgetting it’s a cultural practice that communities can only drop if they are educated about its effects. That draft is at its ultimate process and will hopefully be launched soon.

Parsanka is also now working with both men, his father and his father in-law to end FGM in their respective communities. They have so far saved a good number of girls including family members from the cut. Both fathers have seen how educating children economically uplifts families and communities. They are anti-FGM activists at both household and community level!

 

 

 

‘Age sets of Morans against FGM.’

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Leshan Kampaine (Assistant chief) left, Joseph Toret (Chief) centre, Ntipapa Amsa (Assistant Chief) right ( Rombo Manyattas)

Morans in Rombo, Lugulului, Kuku and Mbirikani manyattas Loitoktok are the first age sets of Morans to turn their backs on (Female Genital Mutilation) FGM. Under the age set system, groups of the same age are initiated into adult life during the same period. The age-set thus formed is a permanent grouping, and lasts throughout the life of its members. Each set consists of about 10,000 Morans. They move up through a hierarchy of grades, each lasting approximately 15 years, including those of junior warriors, senior warriors, junior elders (sometimes classed as senior warriors), and senior elders, who are the ones who make decisions affecting the whole tribe.

This current set of Morans sworn in in 2011, has ten more years to rule. Meaning during their tenure there will be few to almost no cases of Female Genital Mutation (FGM) and early marriage.This declaration gives girls an opportunity to go to school and live up to their dreams.

One of the main reasons why FGM is practiced among this community is to prepare a girl for womanhood and for marriage. Most girls ages 8-15 are circumcised and married off immediately leading to high school dropout cases.

I sought to find out why these sets of Morans are against FGM, a culture that has been very rampant among the Maasai community for decades. I visited two manyattas, Rombo and Lugulului. The Morans here admit that they have been trained by AMREF Health Africa and a few other local CBOs mainly NOYA-Network of Youths in Action on the effects of FGM on their girls and they wholesomely agreed to be the protectors of their girls and women. They too have seen that the consequences of failing to educate girls has led to underdevelopment in their region. Needless to mention, they also confessed that uncircumcised girls are better to marry since they enjoy sex with them as opposed to cut girls who are hard to arouse! They are therefore appealing to women to spare the girls.

The Morans, apart from being physical guardians of the community and  the decision makers they are also role models to younger boys and their peers.

Marriage before used to be determined by fathers but these days marrying is no longer a father’s choice, the decision has entirely been left for the boys to decide when and whom to marry.

I also interacted with a number of female Ex-cutters who have proudly dropped the knife and converted to champions/strong activists who condemn FGM and call for arrests on other females who are still secretly cutting girls.

Transitioning to womanhood is now taught during school holidays. AMREF Health Africa has been teaching girls about Alternative Rites of Passage (ARPs), during school holidays in April, August and December. ARP is a cultural day event which embraces the positive cultural training and ceremonies that initiate girls from childhood to womanhood but removes the harmful cut. The girls are also awarded certificates as a show of passage.

NOYA under its programme, Morans For Girlchild Education and Empowerment (M4GEE) has been able to bring together morans to learn about the effects of FGM and Early Marriage. Morans under this programme are holding yearly festivals dubbed ‘Moran Festival’ where performances are held to raise funds towards education of girls.

The Morans together with the local leders have been the strong voice behind the reduction of FGM in Loitoktok and the strong security that curbs cross-border FGM. Cross border FGM is when girls are taken to the neighboring country Tanzania for FGM since Tanzania has not yet outlawed the practise. The Morans are however watchful of these cases because the last case in 2013 led to a girl bleeding to death.

The East Africa Legislative Assembly (EALA) in May this year introduced a bill outlawing the harmful practice which affects young women and girls in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania. It is seen as critical among the six member states to totally prohibit Female Genital Mutilation. if this bill is enacted, cross boarder FGM is going to be totally illegal.

Additionally, Morans here are involved in exchange programs with other Morans in Tanzania to help them understand the effects of FGM. They also consult each other a lot on various issues and celebrate most ceremonies together.

Alternative rites of passage among other anti-FGM campaigns have been estimated to be 80% productive in Loitoktok. More and more girls are attending schools. Morans have taken it upon themselves to ensure that girls complete primary ,secondary school and college education since they will significantly contribute to development in their own community and the country at large.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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’.

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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?

 

 

 

 

 

Emerging trends that impede the fight to end FGM in Kenya

The Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS 2014) indicates a slight drop in FGM cases (from 27%to 21%) over the past 5yrs. An indication that the fight to end FGM is yielding. But again, why is the battle so slow?

My recent Meeting with Dr. Jebii Kilimo,  Chairperson Anti-FGM board, Kenya, reveals that as much as there is a law in place prohibiting the practice still there are other emerging trends that the practicing communities are adapting to.

Medicalization of the ‘cut’ has resulted in more girls reporting  being cut by medical practitioners at the comfort of their homes rather than by traditional practitioners. According to KDHS 2014, one third of all women who had undergone FGM/C reported being cut by medical practitioners. Criminalization of the practice on medical grounds  has also led to women willing to seek proper medical care to avoid complications.

Although medicalization decreases the negative health effects of the procedure, this has led to misconception that hospitals/clinic FGM is a benign and acceptable form of practice.

According to UNICEF and other NGOs, medicalization obscures the human right issues surrounding FGM/C and prevents the development of effective and long term solution for ending it.
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Some of the tools used by traditional cutters

Due to the legislation that prohibits FGM/C many communities are leaving the ceremonial aspects of the practice. Most communities conduct the practice on specific months in the year through festive ceremonies but that is phasing away as they end up being arrested. They now do it in secrecy by accompanying the practice with a common ceremony such as a birthday.

There is also a trend towards girls being cut at earlier ages. Girls are most frequently cut from 7-12yrs old as compared to 12-15 years before. It is thought that the decrease in age is to avoid detection in response to legislation banning the practice. Another factor for why FGM is performed on young girls is that they are independent and less aware of the health implications of FGM. With increased education and Anti-FGM initiatives girls are less inclined to undergo the procedure. These communities are aware that community based organizations and faith based organizations talk to school going girls and educate them on effects of FGM, so they cut the girls earlier enough before they are enlightened.

Reports indicate that there is also a change in the type of FGM conducted across communities. The amount of tissue cut is reducing.A recent study among the Somali for example, shows that all participating women and girls had been cut and most were infibulated, though a gradual decline in the severity of the cut among younger girls from infibulation to a less severe form was reported. Among the Nandi, clitoridectomy is the most common among the young women whereas excision is more prevalent in the older age groups. They attribute the change in cutting to reducing cases of maternal mortality.

The eradication of FGM is pertinent to achieving of four millennium development goals (MDGs). MDG3 Promote gender equality and empower women. MDG4 Reduce Child Mortality. MDG5 Reduce maternal mortality and MDG6 combat HIV/AIDs malaria and other diseases.

Former First lady Somaliland Edna Adan underscores legislation around FGM. She says that legislation only work when the majority of the people respect it. But when the majority are committing the violations, the few that support the laws lack the muscle to enforce the same law.

Dr. Jebii Kilimo advocates for both formal and informal education, sexual and reproductive health education, increased law enforcement and equipping of law enforcement agencies, research and funding on the psychological consequences of FGM.

Men, stand up for women!

In light of the ongoing 16days of activism, I would like to challenge the men of this country, What are you doing to end Violence Against Women. What role are you playing? Are you doing something to end VAW or are you contributing to the perpetration?

Violence against women is a global phenomenon that affects a large portion of the population right across from the first world countries to the third world. Women are subjected to different shades of violence that can range from verbal abuse to sexual harassment, domestic violence to war crimes etc..

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Destressed woman

Majority of men think they are on the periphery of this problem and need not to get involved. But violence against women is widespread and very real and cannot be written off as a woman issue,because it’s not. It is a social crime that occurs everywhere, in the house, on the streets, in the office and can happen to anyone; their mothers,sisters,daughters  wives.

It is the responsibility of mothers to nurture their sons into men who respect and value women. It is this simple behavioral conditioning  (I.e, allowing sons to mistreat sisters and order them around)that men are made aware of their ‘Superiority’ over women

Sons who see their father or male relative beating women usually believe it is the male right to do so.this is where the society and law enforces role come in, if there is no response to stop this abuse, the young males belief in VAW is strengthened.

Young girls as young as two months are being defiled,  old grandmothers as old as 90 years are being raped. Children in schools are being impregnated by teachers, women in offices asked for sexual favors, preachers asking for ‘sexual spiritual healing’ etc God forbid!

We need men who are caretakers and not abusers, we need men who are protectors and not wolves, we need men who are loving and not bitter scorns, we need men who take the lead and not back seats!

Where are your voices men! where are your voices? Your sisters,daughters,wives are suffering. We have suffered enough, step up for us! It is not good that the same men we are looking for help from are the same men that violet us! Whom do you want us to turn to. It is your role and responsibility to take care of us, women. What has come of you?

I am writing this from the bottom of my heart. It hurts to see all these violence happening to us every day. We can not peacefully walk on the streets without being hurled insults at, being mocked,  why are men bitter? Is their something that we women have done wrong that we may need to turn around? Tell us.

I however commend a few male Involved organizations that have stood up to fight for women rights. They include:

  1. Masculinity Institute-A non governmental organization that transforms attitudes and make domestic violence unacceptable to men,women,boys and girls.
  2. HeForShe- A solidarity movement that encourages gender equality. The movement encourages men to stand up for women as a basic human right and benefit for all.
  3. House Of Major-  A public relations firm that started a campaign dubbed #SayNoToSGBV pioneered by Mwenesi Musalia and Adam Ali who are very passionate about ending violence against women

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    Mwenesi Musalia of House of Major

I dedicate this piece to every man out there. We have the constitution ,with laws and policies that you can use to end violence against women. The ball is your court. We want to feel your voices, your involvement. Men must be the change we wish and hope to see. Please do something, just anything within your capacity to contribute to a violence free society.

Eradicating FGM Among Kenya’s Kisii.

Available data from the Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS)2014 shows Kisii county having the second highest prevalence of female genital mutilation at 84.4%per cent followed by the Maasai at 76% while the Somali leading at 93.6%.

Statistics show that 8 out of every 10 girls were subjected to FGM but this could soon change as an emerging number of survivors have opened up on the disadvantages and their current woes for going under the knife.

FGM in this community is stated as a pre-requisite for any woman seeking to make them’marriageable and respectable’ and is reportedly said to help them control sexual desires before marriage and ensure fidelity (especially within polygamous marriages).

Cutting was done with celebration but has recently become secretive due to prohibition and strict penalties facing perpetrators of FGM.

Traditionally FGM was performed from 15 years in preparation for marriage but now it’s typically performed on girls aged 8-10 years. The most common is Type one, Clitoridectomy, where the hood of the Clitoris is cut off.
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Dr. Grace Okong’o training participants at hall in Borabu, Kisii County.

FGM in this community is also a popular means of additional income for nurses and midwives.

Medicalization of FGM among the elites in Kisii still remains the biggest challenge. The elites uphold this practise by underplaying the reason that equipment used and the pain experienced can be tackled by performing FGM in clean environs by medical officers and nurses. A move that has been prohibited by the Health Ministry. Any medic caught abetting FGM will have his/her lisence revoked.
Hope Foundation for African Women is a non governmental organization that has deployment a different approach to help curb the practice in Nyamira County, Kisii .

HopeFAW was launched in 2011, it uses Popular Education (Education for critical consciousness) technique to inspire the local community and drive them to action.

The module evokes deep conversation by creating an environment that people can trust each other and share ideas /experiences. Participants are challenged to do some soul searching.

Dr. Grace Okong’o founder of the organization calls it “The methodology that penetrates inside people’s hearts”  Hailing from this community, she understands her people well and she knows how to drive them to action.

The organization works with the local committee that includes chiefs, teachers, police, health officials, church leaders, gender office and county representatives of Borabu Sub County.

Through training, Hope Foundation teaches Women their Rights linking FGM to abuse of human rights and the fact that the practice is constitutionally unlawful.

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Dr. Grace Okong’o crowning jubilant graduand’s.

They explain to them how the tradition is holding them back contributing to poverty and under development, comparing them to their neighbouring community, the Luo who are learned and are economically stable since they don’t practice FGM.

The trainers are also taught skills that empower them economically. The training is done for six months. They too learn how to become activists using a work plan and objectives which they use for campaign and economic activity. After training, they graduate and are awarded certificates.

The foundation also incorporates men. Men in Kisii are known to be very rigid. Since it’s a patriarchal society where decisions have to be made by the men, Grace learns how to involve them in the campaign without infringing on their beliefs.

The training aims at teaching them how to respect and involve their women in decision making. And why they should spare their daughters from the cut.

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Primary schools have also been their main target. They empower children to speak. The children learn the effects of FGM and grow up knowing it is wrong.

Pupils of Matutu SDA primary school acting a play on effects of FGM.

FGM in Borabu Sub County is almost no more. Grace hopes to take the campaign to the whole of Kisii with the right support. I believe if this module is pasted to other FGM prevalent regions. We can completely wipe it out in Kenya.

For more information about Hope Foundation please visit their website
http://www.hopefaw.org/

Yes, the youth can indeed end FGM!

Children and young people up to the age of 24 account for up to 70 percent of the population of most developing countries. They represent enormous potential for social and political change indicators for four of the eight Millennium Development Goals. (MDG 2,3,4 and 6) specifically mention girls and boys at the target group for other MDG’s particularly in the field of sex and reproductive health.

We are the Change agents,  the Revolutionists. A new beginning starts with us. A new world is definitely moulded by us. We are the voice and the the driving force behind the developments to eliminate harmful customs and traditional practices.

We are the Pacesetters,  the determiners, the future of the next generation is destined in us. We are the shapers of this world, we can shape it the best way possible since we have the power 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 and dance. We can use our various talents to drive Anti-FGM messages home. We have the energy, our concerted effort can wipe out the practice.

We are the future leaders, doctors, midwives, social workers, teachers. We are therefore supposed to take up the leadership roles now. We are practically the leaders of our countries. 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 young people with the right information through education. Education is key in eradicating this 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 have done it. This 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 can not work as stand-alone entities. Let’s come together, tap into available resources, converge all our unique talents and abilities, form  national movements, speak 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 relationship with all the activists campaigning against FGM.

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”
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It is my business..

There is a future after the cut…

Group of Youth around Kenya and their support leaders during The Girl Generation Conference
Group of Youth around Kenya and their support leaders during The Girl Generation Conference

Working with activists, survivors, support groups, organizations whose core goal is ‘Ending FGM in Kenya’, I meet Alice Masinte at The Girl Generation conference. A conference that encouraged the youth to dialogue towards concerting effort to end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Kenya.

Alice,25, third born in a family of ten (four girls and six boys), underwent the cut in 2002 while she was in class six.

“The pain was excruciating, they cut off everything,” she explains her ordeal during a brief interview with me. I can clearly see the pain in her eyes as she stops to talk for a minute and breaks down. This is heart wrenching…and immediately sends shudders through my veins. I can feel her pain.

She gathers courage and continues, “the procedure was so  crude,  I almost bled to death.” 

Even before she had healed, her father was still at it. He had secretly received dowry payment and arranged that she marries an old man enough to be her fathers age.
This,she learnt from her mother who helped her to escape to a nearby catholic church.
She was enrolled at a local Catholic Missionary School and after intense counselling,now fully recovered she resumed her studies.

She became a pariah at home but concentrated on her studies. She performed well and was admitted to Egerton University where she pursued a diploma course in Agriculture and Extension.

Alice got a job as a Biology and Agriculture teacher in Kisumu at a girls school.
Now enjoying fruits of a learned professional, she joined hands with like minded village peers from Loitoktok and launched a campaign to fight FGM.

Network of Youths in Action (NOYA) was born bringing together 99 youth. She was elected as the founding chairlady as well as the key ambassador.

She quit her teaching job and now focuses on visiting local primary and secondary schools teaching girls on the effects of the cut while encouraging especially those who have undergone the cut that there is life after the experience.

She urges parents not to subject girls to the cut because it does not make them superior than those uncut. It only subjects them to pain and other adverse health complications. 

NOYA has been working with morans under a program called Morans for Girl Child Education and Empowerement (M4GEE). They have successfully been able convince morans to lead in the fight to end FGM. They have also involved local leaders and even religious leaders in their dialogue.

She is grateful that her zeal has been able to save her youngest sister and a few other girls, since they have rightfully escaped the cut. She vows to save more girls.

Alice is Shrewd, I admire her courage and determination. I feel success in her struggle to end FGM.