Emily, 42, is a local ActionAid worker who lives in West Pokot, Kenya. Committed to changing the lives of women and girls in the region, she works with a network of more than 100 women from surrounding villages to help stamp out female genital mutilation (FGM). Since ActionAid started working there, Emily says fewer girls are facing the cut and many more are staying in school. But, as she explains here, there is still much to do to end the practice for good.
"The West Pokot community in northern Kenya is rich with culture. But some parts of the culture are violating women’s rights and girls' rights – like female genital mutilation. Girls across the region were at risk before ActionAid’s intervention.
FGM affects women throughout their lives – we have had cases where women who have had FGM have died in childbirth.
FGM affects women throughout their lives - we have had cases where women who have had FGM have died in childbirth.
Also, after FGM, girls in the community do not go back to school. This means women in Pokot have less of a chance of being leaders, because usually to be in leadership, you need to be educated.
Changing minds, ending FGM
My job as Capacity Building Coordinator for ActionAid is to mobilise the community at the grassroots. I set up and run community meetings, identify women’s group and form the women’s networks to fight for their rights. With the women's groups, we sensitise local people to the dangers of FGM. We have videos that we show, and use plastic models of the body parts to demonstrate the effects of FGM. We also work with leaders in the community.
We run girls’ forums in local schools where we educate girls to know their rights, and help them understand the bad effects of FGM, so they will be able to continue with their education, and their body will be safe.
Offering a safe place for girls at risk
After running the sessions in the villages, through meetings and through the women’s network, many of the girls here now realise that it is bad to undergo FGM. But they are still pressured by their parents and by society.
We run girls’ forums in local schools where we educate girls to know their rights.
So once the girls have realised that they don’t have to go through it, some run from their home, looking for a place where they can be safe. Many end up coming to the ActionAid-supported safe houses. Many community leaders, like in the police station, the chiefs and even the churches refer girls who are fleeing FGM to ActionAid or to the women’s network.
The girls will also have a safe place and home where they can stay, be counselled and be accepted by the community. Some of them are traumatised, so after going through the counselling and the training, they will feel part of the community and can continue with their lives.
When the school is closed for holidays, these girls are not able to go back to their homes, so we and the women's network look after them. We go back to their parents to talk to them, and try to convince them to accept their child as still part of the family, and that they still need go back to school.
Giving girls the chance to go to school
What motivates me most, is that when I came to work at ActionAid, the number of girls transitioning to high school was very low. But last year, I had 16 girls joining university. Some are studying medicine, some are teachers.
Also, the women are coming together strongly with one voice and participating. We work with partners like the Kongelai Women’s Network – they are the ones going out on the ground to end FGM.
Last year, I had 16 girls joining university. Some are studying medicine, some are teachers.
And we have role models now, girls who are coming back to West Pokot and saying ‘No, let’s give girls the chance to go to school’, and telling how they got to university. I feel proud of that.
With more funds, we will save more lives of these girls; we will change the lives of the girls. We will change the lives of the women in the community."
Please support the work of Emily, and thousands of women like her, by giving a monthly donation to ActionAid. Your donation will ensure that together we are able to protect girls from FGM.
Photo credits: Ashley Hamer/ActionAid