How Nandi County is charting the anti-FGM cause

For the past four years, Dinah Keter, has been busy saving the lives of many schoolgirls whose future was bleak because off Female Genital Mutilation.

Despite the vice being outlawed it’s still practiced secretly in some parts of Nandi County.

Keter, who is the principal of Got Ne Lel Girls’ Secondary in Tinderet Constituency, has put her profession and life on the line for the love and education of the girl child.

Working closely with the Rural Women Peace Link, a local community based organisation based in the North Rift and the local administration, Keter has been part of a team sensitising the residents of the area to abandon the retrogressive and harmful practice. She has instead challenged them to embrace alternative rites of passage programmes conducted by local churches and led by Rural Women Peace Link.

Says Keter, who made a name for herself in her previous station at Itigo Girls’ Secondary also in Nandi County: “It has not been easy being at the forefront to fight against this outlawed practice in this part of Nandi County where the vice is still being practiced secretly.”

She notes: However, I applaud the support from Rural Women’s Peace Link and the office of the local chief, Nandi County Women’s Representative and the spouse to the Governor, we are making head way.”

A recent survey by Peace Initiative Kenya (PIK) identified Nandi County as one of the worst hit by FGM in the country. Girls as young as eight years are forced to drop out of school, undergo the ‘cut’ and then married off, mostly to elderly men after being forced to drop out of school.

As we celebrate Keter this month, it’s also the month that the United Nations marked in 2003 to have February 6 as the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation. Ever since, many countries have gone ahead to outlaw the retrogressive practice violates women and girls.

In Kenya Female Genital Mutilation was first outlawed under the Children’s Act of 2001. Subsequent laws then followed including the autonomous Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2011.

This was after efforts by Lina Jebii Kilimo, the former Marakwet West MP moved a successful motion in Parliament to rescue schoolgirls who are most affected. In 2011, Fred Kapondi from Mt Elgon then moved a motion that saw the law enacted to totally ban all forms of FGM.

Since then, the anti-FGM campaign has gone a notch higher following the creation of the Anti-FGM Board, with Kilimo as chairperson, to ensure that the letter and spirit of the law is upheld.

In a recent interview with Keter during a media tour of Nandi County, the school head revealed that she had managed to help six girls to escape from ‘the knife’ by working closely with the local chief, Maendeleo Ya Wanawake officials and the council of Nandi elders also known as Kaburwo.

Among the rescued girls was one who had even been married off by her parents to an elderly man in the village and forced to spend some months away at home on maternity leave after she delivered a baby.

The girl was able to resume schooling and was admitted to the boarding school following the efforts by Keter and Rural Women Peace Link. According to the student, she had to plead with her parents and so-called husband to allow her return to school. Her mother agreed to look after the grandchild while her daughter was in school.

Says the girl: “I cannot thank Rural Women Peace Link enough for encouraging me to return to school and supporting me to do so. I know of other classmates who were not as lucky as me.”

The good news was that Keter managed to hold a meeting with the girl’s parents whom she convinced to let her go back to class.

Rural Women Peace Link has also been able to help with the logistics.

By the time this was going on, another successful initiative was launched by the organisation in the County where the anti-FGM campaign took to another. To win the war, Rural Women Peace link decided to work with the perpetrators of FGM. They did this by level by inviting traditional circumcisers and men to get involved in the sensitisation campaigns. This is where the Kaburwo came into the scene, as the highest decision making body in the Nandi community as far as culture is concerned.

Some 30 elderly women who had been involved in the banned practice went public mid last year to renounce what they had been doing as a source of income and also as their traditional role saying “they had seen the light”.

The 30 were later welcomed by Rural Women Peace Link into their programmes and assured of support to use their vast networks to go around girls’ schools to create awareness on the negative effects of FGM and promote alternative rites of passage.

During a visit to Got Ne Lel Girls’ Secondary School in Tinderet, journalists had an opportunity to interact with the 30 reformed traditional female circumcisers.

“Alternative rites of passage have been commercialised. Nandi girls now lack proper guidance on how to go about life, what we witness is escalating social problems involving girls and young women,” lamented Rael Choge, the reformed group’s coordinator.

A recent research revealed escalating cases of teenage and child pregnancy, abortions, school drop outs, early marriages among other social issues that have heavily affected women and the girl child.

With support Rural Women Peace Link, the women’s group has managed to give guidance and counselling services to hundreds of girls on topics ranging from teenage sex, education and effects of early marriages among other topics.

“Nandi people are naturally reserved, particularly on issues that revolve around sex. The journalists have been given an opportunity to freely interact with survivors of FGM,” said Tom Matoke, a local journalist. He noted: “We have had very open discussions with these women on diverse topics including FGM and teenage sex among other social issues, I am personally amazed at their openness.”

Another colleague, Elwin Cherop, a journalist with Milele FM, said: “This tour is an eye opener, there is need for serious campaigns on GBV and FGM in Nandi County. He noted: “The problems are real and alarming, particularly so because the survivors hide away for fear of stigma.”

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