How can we support Kenyan communities to abandon the knife - ending FGM?


14 October 2011

As I travel to Kenya, my head is full of images and stories of girls undergoing FGM. How can meetings I’ve had recently with MPs and NGOs in London, and plan to hold in Nairobi, end this practice?

In the spring, an article caught my eye in the Guardian. Having only been back from birthing babies in Pakistan and Nigeria some nine months, the story of Cath Holland, a Cumbrian midwife helping a community in Pokot, Kenya to adopt an alternative right of passage (ARP) to FGM, got my interest! Christian Aid fortnight featured an article in the Telegraph on the same project, and after various discussions with them and Guardian Films , I’ve been asked to distribute this film across 28 countries.

Abandon the Knife (Kepsteno Rotwo) follows the lives of two girls, Nancy 17 and Gertrude who stand up to their families to avoid having FGM. One girls runs for refuge to her grandmother and he mother is temporarily ‘thrown’ out by her husband for helping his daughter escape his planned marriage – as the suitor is on the way and cows have already been ‘paid’ for. She wants to complete her schooling and become a doctor, but her marriage dowry, to immediately follow her FGM ceremony, will pay for her brother’s education – and more cows! Click here to see the film.

The annual ARP ceremony last year was attended by over 175 girls – who when they are educated in anatomy and the health consequences of FGM, become advocates of change to younger girls and role models for the future.

Not far way in Narok, a small church house shelters a dozen Maasai girls escaping FGM and early marriage with the agreement of their parents. Hope for the Massai Girls Centre started in 2007 to help girls as young as 9 avoid the dangerous FGM that is a rite of passage allowing marriage to take place, usually to an older man. Kenya’s laws punish with 7 years imprisonment and/or $5000 fine, but a local voice, Oldoigero says ‘things will not change soon – it will take time. We don’t want to upset the community, we want a gradual change’. I will be visiting girls who live in an orphanage in Kenya which is run as a sister project to another FGM project in Suswa.

Another ARP successful project was undertaken by Feed the Minds this year. I met their project author, Katy Newell-Jones, recently to learn more about the work in Kuria and Kisii. The thing that all these projects have in common are girl empowerment, community education and engagement of men, instead of the traditional cutting season rescue camps. As we more towards the FGM season in December, we need to advocate for marginalised rural communities to gain literacy for women and girls in order to be aware valuable in the longer term. As Nancy said in ‘Abandon the Knife’, ‘education is better then many cows – you can milk it for longer!’. May that be a philosophy adopted across Kenya, as I hope to persuade more people of that philosophy as I travel to see how I can add value to the anti-FGM campaign across Africa. Email at info@28toomany.org if you’d like to get involved in our campaign.