Female genital mutilation (FGM) is ruthless. It has no health benefits for girls and women. The procedure can cause severe bleeding and lasting health problems. When you look at the faces of young innocent girls who are helpless and are afraid of undergoing the cut, you feel very sad and angered.
At ActionAid Kenya, in the last five years alone we have helped more than 645 girls affected by FGM to get back into education. Girls like Abigail, 14, who ran away from home the night before she was due to be cut. She was terrified after her neighbour died from excessive bleeding. She found safety at an ActionAid-funded safe-house, and later helped her friend Purity escape there too. Together they are now part of a girls’ group that is campaigning to help other girls say no to FGM.
Awareness is key to ending FGM
Abigail is one of the girls fronting the new campaign we are launching with ActionAid UK to help girls escape FGM and go back to school. It is a bold campaign, because we know that hard practices like this often need hard words to drive the point home.
Raising awareness as well as funds is important to help these innocent girls gain access to education and have a better future. We hope, as a result, that more people will understand the long-term impacts of FGM, and how it negatively affects women's and girls' lives, and be compelled to support the fight to end it.
The campaign will be launched in Kenya in August when schools break up, because it is during the holidays that girls are at the highest risk of being cut and forcefully married off. We are piloting the campaign in Kongelai in West Pokot County - one of the counties where ActionAid Kenya works to support girls, and where 75% of girls are cut.
It is a bold campaign, because we know that hard practices like this often need hard words to drive the point home.
We are working with a local women’s group - the Kongelai Women’s Network - to confront the cultural belief that FGM is important for girls. Our approach is long term, helping women and girls to be agents of change in their own community. We are tapping into the local women’s knowledge and experience to counter the practice that has kept girls from reaching their potential for generations.
The lifelong effects of FGM
In Kenya, FGM, also known as female circumcision, is a rite of passage in some communities. In others, the cut simply defines a woman as being ready for marriage. Girls, as young as nine years old are forced into early marriages with older men of more than 60 years of age.
That's why Christine is also fronting our campaign. She underwent FGM at 12 years old and bled severely. She was married off just five weeks later and had to have a caesarean to safely deliver her baby boy Amos, now seven months old. She is against FGM because of the risks to pregnant women and their babies and wants to help protect other girls from going through what she has been through.
In Kongelai, education is not a priority to many of the households in the communities that practise FGM. After the cut, girls are forced to drop out of school and become wives and young mothers at a tender age - their lives brutally cut short.
There is a need to have true champions who can support the young girls at risk to access education and only make a family with a man of their choice if and when they are mature and ready for it.
Our joint campaign
Jointly with ActionAid UK we will launch the campaign calling on the Kenyan public to support the end to FGM. We’re using real stories of girls affected, and the communities they live in – all we’re doing is revealing the brutality faced by so many young girls in our society - both in the short and the long term.
We urgently need more support so that we can stamp out FGM for good. It is a journey we have started. We will not relent until we see the results.
Ashley Hamer /ActionAid