Elgeyo Marakwet County using education to tame FGM
Five-year old Diana Koskei was among 20 children shielded from the scorching heat by leaves of a tree at the school located below the imposing Kipchongo Hills.
To catch the attention of the teacher conducting an illustrative lesson under the Early Childhood Development Education (ECDE) Koskei punches the air with her feeble left hand.
Seconds later, the nursery school girl springs up to capture the attention of the teacher Diana Chepkonga as she holds a book illustrating a number of animals she would want the pupils to identify.
The girl settles on the little chair arranged in a rectangular shape under the tree for young ones with a big smile after identifying a cat and a dog in the book.
“We have few classrooms. It’s better to teach them under this tree instead of letting them stay at home where they are confronted by many risks,” says Chepkonga whose services are nearly voluntary.
Chepkonga who volunteers her services notes: “I am not on any payroll. I accept anything small at month end.”
She notes: “Even though teaching materials is a challenge it is better I come here and stay with the children. At least the girls’ future is assured.”
Koskei is one of the girls at Chepetarit Girls’ Primary School located on a dusty, rough road and nearly 55 kilometres from Iten, the headquarters of Elgeyo Marakwet where the number of girls outsmarts that of boys.
She is a beneficiary of a ‘take the girl child to school’ campaign drawn by the school management and spearheaded by provincial administrator, Charles K. Toroitich aimed at sparing the female pupils from falling victim to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
It is a deliberate strategy management of the school situated on a ten acre community piece of land in Cheptarit Village, Keiyo North Sub-County developed with the sole purpose of hooking girls at a tender age for the purpose of instilling education values and appetite for learning.
Area chief Toroitich who has been in charge of the area for five years was identified by the board of management and roped in to ensure the campaign bears positive results. It is being done in partnership with members of the local community at the grassroots and backing of the World Vision International.
Through members whom Toroitich identified as representatives of the community on the ground and inducted them as board members has resulted in more girls attending class.
According to Linah Chebii Kilimo, chairperson of the Anti-FGM Board and hailing from Elgeyo Marakwet the negative cultural practice has seen girls miss out on education and get married at an early age. Kilimo blames poverty and illiteracy as vices that make the practice thrive.
The Kenyan Demographic and Health Survey of 2008 and 2009 indicated that one out of every three women between ages 15 to 49 years had undergone FGM, with most communities in Kenya’s Eastern and North rift embracing the female cut.
Kenya’s national FGM rate is at 27 percent yet high rates remain among certain communities with Somali registering 98 percent, Kisii (96%) and Maasai (73%). However, Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS) 2014 notes that FGM risks the health and lives of women and girls who are subjected to it. It also violates the internationally accepted human rights.
The KDHS 2014 notes that in North Eastern region of Kenya the practice is almost universal at 98 percent compared to Nyanza (32%), Rift Valley (27%) and Eastern (26%). Western art of the country recorded lowest prevalence of one percent.
The KDHS 2014 also notes that the practice decreases where education increases. The survey notes that 58 percent of women who have no education are reported to have been circumcised compared to 12 percent who are with secondary school education.
According to United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the International Confederation of Midwives and the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), FGM violates the human rights and undermines the health and well-being of about three million girls each year.
More than 130 million girls and women in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where the practice is concentrated today have undergone some form of FGM and the impact on their lives is enormous.
A multi-country study by World Health Organisation in six African countries, showed that women who had undergone FGM, had significantly increased risks for adverse events during childbirth, and that genital mutilation in mothers has negative effects on their new-born babies.
According to the study, an additional one to two babies per 100 deliveries die as a result of complications resulting from FGM.
“Five years ago education sector nearly collapsed because of prevalence of the vice. Now it has gone down in Keiyo compared to Marakwet,” says chief Toroitich.
The chief uses public barazas to raise awareness about the vice and at the same time keeps his ears on the ground. He looks out for homesteads with children of school going age who are kept at home.
According to Kennedy Kosgei, head teacher of a school in Elgeyo Marakwet County, enrolment rate of the girl child currently stands at 179 against 93 boys.
He notes: “This has improved because of the strategy in which the boy child learning alongside members of the opposite sex is sensitized about the importance and value of an educated partner.”
Kosgei notes that some of the problems which have contributed to the vice include illiteracy in the region among parents who did not see the need for education and high poverty levels. All these have had negative implications on the education sector.
“The vice is pronounced in lower parts of Marakwet east and west and is fuelled by social norms that are still valued by some clans,” explains Pascaline Rutto, Health and Nutrition Project Officer with World Vision. She says: “We work with government structures on the ground to promote quality education and child rights.”
However, Ruto notes: “Keiyo is different. Education performance has improved. Out of a population of ten pupils, eight are girls.”
According to Ruto: “It’s an important tool to tame the twin head of early marriage and female circumcision of young girls.”
“Increasing access to education is key strategy because educated women are less likely to allow their daughters to be cut, says Evans Kandie, headmaster of Kessup Primary School.
Kandie has also introduced a feeding programme to encourage girls to stay in school.
According to Moses Kipkoech Lilan Deputy County Commissioner in the region, FGM has not been so pronounced in the county in recent years.
“There has been a decline in the number of girls subjected to the cut as a resulting of mainstreaming gender issues at the policy level,” explains Lilan. He observes: “I am seeing a changing society. With more girls in school, they will influence an end to the vice.”
In North Eastern Province, less than 20 per cent of girls are ever enrolled in school.
Like World Vision, UNICEF has been helping communities abandon the cut which is still inflicted upon a vast majority of girls in the province.
To help address this problem, UNICEF has been working with the Ministry of Education and the Office of the President to increase access to education through support for mobile and boarding schools as well improved water and sanitation facilities in schools and better-quality teaching in child-cantered, girl-friendly classrooms.
Communities are also encouraged to openly discuss the dangers of FGM and promote child rights. As a result, even in conservative communities, people are talking about the practice and its adverse effects.
While FGM is not as prevalent in the rest of the country, a 2003 nationwide survey revealed that almost a third of Kenyan women aged 15 to 49 had undergone genital mutilation. However, the same survey also showed a 30 per cent reduction in the practice.
The reduction is largely due to increased education, female economic empowerment and the introduction of so-called alternative rites of passage.