Student rallies community to abandon FGM
When in primary school, Beatrice Leparen was a loner for many years. She could not come to terms with the declining number of girls as progression to the upper single stream class approached at Mukutani Primary School in Baringo County.
“I had taken it upon myself to talk to girls and parents on the need to educate the girl child,” says Leparen. She explains: “As the only survivor in the school, I often fell into depression as the rest of girls dropped out of school.”
A former pupil at Mukutani Primary School, Leparen shares her experience of the time that she was in in school. As the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination approached, that would mark their eight years in primary school, Leparen fell into depression.
“I often fell into serious loneliness. Many a times I fought back the temptation to quit school,” says Leparen. “I tried hard and resisted the temptation. Now I’m proud to be at the university.”
To be a third year student at University of Nairobi and being a biochemistry student is no mean achievement for Leparen.
A resident of a remote village some 90 kilometres from Kabarnet, the headquarters of Baringo County, Leparen was completely cut off from modernity, where searing heat and rugged terrain made access to public transport impossible.
Leparen was raised by her parents, a couple that held religious values with high esteem and it’s these values that make the role model in education proud.
Leparen spends her holidays hoping into state security vehicles to connect the village and the larger zone where Female Genital Mutilation is rampant to persuade girls and parents to ditch the retrogressive culture.
Mukutani is famous for all the wrong things. Besides suffering high rates of school dropout, harsh climatic conditions and cattle rustling that pits the West Pokot community and locals in Baringo South Sub-county has been a norm.
“The dream of what I wanted to be in life made me push hard. It gave me some courage and ability to endure,” says Leparen. She notes: “Girls often told me they wanted to be subjected to the cut. I persuaded them not to but in the end I lost my companions when they dropped out and left to be circumcised.”
According to Leparen, all the girls who left school to face the female genital mutilation never came back to school because soon after the cut they got married and this was mostly to older men.
Today Leparen traverses the expansive hostile terrain during college breaks to create awareness about the need to have girls retained in school and the negative effects of FGM.
She uses platforms set up by local women’s groups like the Ngangito Community Based Organization (CBO) which is also advocating against FGM talking to youth and parents about the negative effects of the practice.
Female Genital Mutilation reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women and girls.
The practice also violates their rights to health, security and physical integrity as well as their right to be free from torture and cruelty as well as inhuman or degrading treatment.
Recognising the importance of engaging health workers in the effort to end FGM, the 2015 International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation was marked under the theme “Mobilization and Involvement of Health Personnel to Accelerate Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation” and in Kenya was observed Elgeyo Marakwet County on February 6.
Since 2003, when the first International Day on Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation was marked, it has been celebrated every year. The day is marked as an awareness campaign to end the harmful practice that violates girls and women’s rights.
In 2016, the day is marked under the theme “Together Mobilizing to Contribute to the Achievement of the New Global Goals Through the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation by 2030.
Goal number five of the new development framework the Sustainable Development Goals, seeks to achieve gender equality and empower women and girls. Among its targets is to eliminate all harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriages as well as FGM.
Although primarily concentrated in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East, FGM is a universal problem and is also practiced in some countries in Asia and Latin America. Female Genital Mutilation continues to persist amongst immigrant populations living in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), jointly with United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICE), leads the largest joint global programme to accelerate the abandonment of FGM. The programme currently focuses on 17 African countries and also supports regional and global initiatives, among them Kenya.
Although the practice of FGM cannot be justified by medical reasons, in many countries it is executed more and more because of culture and often by medical professionals, which constitutes ones of the greatest threats to the abandonment of the practice.
A recent analysis of existing data shows that more than 18 percent of all girls and women who have been subjected to FGM have had the procedure performed by a health-care provider and in some countries this rate is as high as 74 percent
Baringo County inspirational woman of the 2015 award, Nasaru Kariambu, of the Redeemed Circumcisers Group says drop out from school in the region mostly takes place among pupils in class five to seven.
She says: “Bora matiti ionekena, basi yeye ni mtu mzima (as long as the breasts are visible, then she is treated as a grown up).” And with this a husband can be fished out for her at any time.
Excessive bleeding, death of the baby or mother and birth complications are some of the complications that come with those who have undergone FGM. Nasaru, who is World Vision trained traditional birth attendant and anti-FGM campaigner says impacts of FGM on girls and women are immense.
Nasaru takes pride at the rescue efforts by the organization she leads, saying in addition to the 38 under her care, two have already proceeded to the university.
Baringo County Governor Benjamin Cheboi, an educationist in his own right, understand the dangers of not letting girls pursue education and his government has put in place elaborate plans to tackle the vice.
“Education is key in the fight against the cut. Cases have gone down dramatically. We have established a department to deal with the vice,” explains Cheboi.
According to Cheboi, Mogotio in Baringo North and central sub-counties are free from the vice that is common in East Pokot and Baringo South.
An education curriculum that points out evils of the practice, the consequences of breaking the Prohibition of FGM Act 2011, sensitizing young boys and a forum to educate grassroots based administrators like chiefs to make them understand the act are some of the strategies Baringo County government has put in place to deal with the issue.