By Issa Hussein
ISIOLO, Kenya, February 3, 2023 – Northern Kenya is renowned for many things but top on the list is conservative cultural beliefs and practices that tend to undermine women’s rights.
However, there is a ray of hope as a wind of change is blowing in the insecure frontier region as many women have come out to demand for their rights and involvement in cultural decision-making processes.
Women who underwent Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), wife inheritance and young girls were forced into early marriages are coming out and advocating for girls’/women’s rights. They have embraced the strategy of openly sharing the pain and trauma they underwent and at the same time urging women and girls to unite and speak loudly against the vices.
“Today am happy with my Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) result as I have scored A Minus. The academic result will offer me healing and strength to forget the pain I endured when I was forced to undergo female genital cutting (FGM). I resisted and said no as young as I was and I remember community reinforcement was called and I was subdued by five men. It was a painful act,” stated Miss Amal Abdi, a well-known girl rights advocate in northern Kenya.
She studied her secondary school education at Kiserian Girls Secondary school in Nairobi while visiting her county of Isiolo on weekends and school holidays to continue with her girl’s empowerment and rights activities.
According to Miss Amal, the horrible and painful act of FGM gave her the energy and determination to fight for other young girls and stop the barbaric act.
“It was a painful barbaric act and I decided to mobilize other young girls, school management and teachers and women rights advocates in fighting the practice and also save young girls from FGM,” remembers Miss Amal.
Communities living in Northern part of Kenya practice FGM type 3 also known as Infibulation. Type 3 mutilation is the worst type whereby the entire clitoris and labia minora are cut out and labia majora are thinly sliced or scrapped and the raw surfaces are either stitched together or sealed.
Type 3 FGM, which is also popularly known as Pharaonic has contributed to health risks to women and girls in Northern Kenya.
The health risks associated with type 3 FGM are haemorrhage, infection, pain, difficulty in urinating, difficulty during sexual intercourse and risk to mother and child during delivery (childbirth).
Several reasons have been given to justify the practice including FGM as a rite of passage, family honour, controlling sexuality, religious requirement and ethnic identity.
Miss Amal remembers, how she ganged up with other girls and approached schools’ administration and demanded that the schools work closely with them in combating vices such as early forced marriages and FGM.
The strategy worked as the school administration established a system where girls at risk of early forced marriage and FGM will report and the threats reported to authorities for action and linking the threatened girl to a safe house for her to continue with her education without stress.
All the young girls who teamed up with Miss Amal have also undergone FGM against their will and the trauma they encountered informed their resolve to save other girls and women.
“I remember the young girls approached me and narrated their pain and how they were forced to undergo FGM. They wanted action at the community level and the school to act. The school management brainstormed and came up with an idea of establishing a reporting mechanism that will save girls in schools and those in the village,” divulged Mrs Mumina Golo, an Isiolo-based school teacher and administrator.
The reporting mechanism involves school girls reporting threats. At the same time information is voluntarily collected from other liberal women villagers who collect information on planned female genital cuttings and the same is reported to the mechanism.
The mechanism system has so far saved more than 4,000 girls, both at the school and village levels from undergoing repugnant cultural practices such as FGM and early forced marriages.
“The mechanism system is good as no family members know who reported them to the authority and who leaked the information on planned FGM or Forced marriages events. The system has saved more than 4,000 girls and we are encouraging schools in Isiolo, Mandera, Wajir and Garissa counties to adopt the mechanism and save girls,” Stated Mrs Amran Abdundi, Executive Director of Frontier Indigenous Network, an organisation that works with schools in using the mechanism.
The joint action between the school and the young girls who were victims of FGM sharpened Miss Amal determination of fighting the vices at the community level and she joined Frontier Indigenous Network as Girl Rights Ambassador, where she worked with various schools, village women associations, women leaders and mentored girls to come out and fight for rights.
“I worked with various groups and mentored more than 1,000 girls at the school and community levels. Am happy my work has bored fruits as more families have abandoned FGM while young girls are resisting the vice and reporting cases to the mechanism at sub-county and county levels in northern Kenya region,” divulged Mrs Amal Abdi.
With her sterling academic performance, Miss Amal Abdi plans to undertake a dentistry course and assist communities in northern Kenya, especially women and children who have no access to medical services.
“Apart from women’s rights violations, women and children lack access to medical services particularly primary healthcare and dental services. Imagine in Isiolo County one dentist serving more than 200,000 people and an area the size of Belgium. After my dental studies I want to offer communities in northern Kenya both dental, primary healthcare and expand my initiative of fighting outdated cultural practices and mentoring girls to take leadership positions,” pledged a visibly upbeat Miss Amal.
She also plans to start a massive campaign in conjunction with both national and county government authorities in promoting girl-child education and ensuring all girls in remote areas attend school and gain an education.
Miss Amal is emphatic that she wants all girls in remote villages to go to school and plans to unveil an initiative to enlist all girls in each village and report on their school attendance.
The mechanism will ensure all girls report and attend school and failure would see their parents reprimanded and action taken by the authorities.
“I want northern Kenya to produce more women doctors, pharmacists, women water engineers, women entrepreneurs and teachers. It’s possible and I will push for it,” an optimistic Miss Amal noted.