Susan is a women’s rights campaigner in western Kenya, who yearns for girls to complete their education. The 39-year-old mother dropped out of school when she was 12 years old. The reason? She endured female genital mutilation (FGM) at the age of 12 and got married shortly after. Now, Susan leads a network of 107 local women who want to bring FGM to an end, and ensure girls can stay in school.
“I am the chairwoman of the Kongelai Women’s Network. We are over 100 women who have come together to fight against violence against women and girls. We are all individuals from nearby villages. If there are any cases against our children’s rights or girls’ rights or women’s rights, we take those cases to court.
On stand-by to protect girls fleeing FGM
There are two things that prompt a girl to run away from home: the risk of FGM and the risk of early forced marriage. Once those girls reach our office we co-ordinate ourselves and call the administration.
Some girls are forced to marry at 12 years old. If their parents find them with us, it becomes a difficult, confrontational issue. They will want to take her back.
Some girls are forced to marry at 12 years old.
We usually take that opportunity to tell them about the law and discuss that it is illegal. At that point, they usually leave the girl and say: ‘OK, you can take care of her’. Then the women’s network must find a place for her to stay.
Facing opposition within the community
We face many challenges. There are cases where chiefs and administrators come to help. And there are cases where they collude with the community to ensure the cases are frustrated, because of the cultural laws and beliefs that are still high among the community members.
We face many challenges.
A few community members are not supportive of our work. The women in the network are ridiculed. They are discouraged. Their husbands sometimes don’t support them. So they need to be motivated and have this strong will to do this work.
We do this as a group, not as individuals. Because if we do it as individuals, members of the community will target you as an individual.
“I won’t allow my daughters to be circumcised”
I went through FGM at the tender age of 12. One of my friends bled and she got sick and the wound got septic. After going through FGM I didn’t continue with my education. I dropped out of school and was married off. So this is one of the reasons that motivates me to ensure that young girls and other women don’t go through what I went through.
I wouldn’t allow my daughters to be circumcised. Even if my friend or neighbour wants to do it. I will really fight against it.
Women speaking up
Changes have come about because of awareness being raised by ActionAid, our women’s network, and a change in the law. Women now speak in public meetings. Women are now aware that if something is wrong, they will just say it is wrong. In the past they would keep quiet about it.
Now more girls are going to school and completing their education. The women’s network has also been able to buy our own piece of land, because of the education and training we have received from ActionAid.
Women are now aware that if something is wrong, they will just say it is wrong. In the past they would keep quiet about it.
But this doesn’t mean FGM has stopped. It is being practised in other areas. There is still more work for us."
You can help Susan, and thousands of women like her, in the fight against FGM by giving a monthly donation to ActionAid. ActionAid works in ten countries in Africa to support women and girls to stand up against FGM. Please give now to ensure that women like Susan are able to continue their essential work.
Photo credits: Ashley Hamer/ActionAid.