From this week, stark images of girls in Kenya will be cutting into adverts and video screens across the country. The images are part of a campaign we're launching with ActionAid Kenya to highlight how some girls' lives are being brutally cut short by FGM - whether through the immediate risks or the longer term impact.
Female genital mutilation (FGM), not only puts thousands of girls’ lives at risk, but it takes away their childhood. Since FGM is considered a right of passage into womanhood, girls are often married off shortly after being cut. Once married, most girls will not be allowed to return to school.
So as the school holidays and the cutting season begin in Kenya, we are calling for support to help us end the practice in one of the worst-affected areas of Kenya – Kongelai – where 75% of girls, mostly under the age of 15, will face the cut.
Campaigning in partnership with ActionAid Kenya
ActionAid Kenya have been working with local women's groups to end FGM in the Kongelai area for fifteen years. Together they have made huge progress in Kongelai town, where cases of FGM are now extremely rare, but are now determined to spread their campaigning to the surrounding villages. One of the ways to do this is to provide more safe centres for girls fleeing FGM and a base for the women to work from.
To respond to this need, ActionAid Kenya and ActionAid UK have developed a joint FGM campaign, led jointly by women’s rights staff in both countries, leading the fight against FGM.
I'd rather die on the road, than bleed to death from FGM.
We have worked closely with girls affected by FGM in Kenya and listened to their experiences. Two of these girls are fronting our campaign – childhood friends Abigail, 14, and Purity, 13. When Abigail was 13 she escaped FGM and found sanctuary at an ActionAid-funded safe house in West Pokot.
Shortly before Abigail was due to be cut, a girl in her village died from excessive bleeding as a result of FGM. Abigail fled to avoid the same fate, and helped Purity to flee when her turn to be cut came. Now, both Abigail and Purity are safe and back in school.
Even if they survived, they knew that FGM would mean early marriage or difficulties during childbirth. They didn’t want to take that risk. Abigail explained: "I'd rather die on the road, than bleed to death from FGM."
Emily Partany, the Community Development Facilitator in Kongelai, said: “The #BrutalCut campaign is so important. It will help us to eradicate FGM, and give women and girls in the Kongelai an alternative life. Women and girls can continue living like any other women in the world.
Emily continues: "Raising awareness of the brutal practice, and raising vital funds for our community safe centres will save the lives of more girls, change the lives of the girls we are able to support, and change the lives of the women in the community. That’s why we’re very pleased to be working with ActionAid UK to make it a joint success.”
Our #BrutalCut campaign is about raising awareness of the risks facing girls like Abigail and Purity. It’s a play on the word 'cut' – because in Kenya, that's what FGM is commonly called.
We launched by cutting different media channels with videos of the three Kenyan girls leading our campaign, to interrupt people's online viewing when they least expect it and grab people's attention. Now we want people to listen to their stories, by watching and sharing our one-minute campaign video and helping us spread the word about the urgent need to end FGM, for good. And we are also asking people to donate to raise the vital funds we need to build more safe centres for girls fleeing FGM in Kenya.
Raising awareness of the brutal practice, and raising vital funds for our community safe centres will save the lives of more girls.
We know the campaign may be seen as controversial. But at ActionAid, we truly believe FGM is a brutal practice. And that much more needs to be done to end it.
Follow our story over the next few weeks to find out more about how our Brutal Cut campaign can help Kenyan girls escape FGM, for good.
Photos: Ashley Hamer /ActionAid