OPINION: Kenya can end FGM/C, but we can’t do it alone

by Christine Ghati | SEF Engage Foundation
Thursday, 6 February 2020 09:00 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Students arrive at the start of a social event advocating against harmful practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) at the Imbirikani Girls High School in Imbirikani, Kenya, April 21, 2016. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

My father was killed because he didn’t want me to be cut

Christine Ghati is Founder of SEF Engage Foundation, a global activists and a Queen’s Young Leader Award winner.

World leaders have promised to end female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) by 2030, and in my home country of Kenya, President Kenyatta went even further by pledging to end the cut by 2022. But as the world marks the annual day for Zero Tolerance to FGM/C on Thursday, I know that there is a long way to go for us to meet that goal.

Nationally in Kenya, 21% of women have undergone FGM/C. This is a huge drop since 1998, when it was 38%, but in my county of Kuria, it's still much higher - around 96% of girls are cut there.

Not only does FGM/C affect a girl physically and mentally - it has many varied impacts. When a girl is cut, she is then married off at a young age - 12, 13 or 14. Then she no longer goes to school, she cannot go on to acquire skills or get a job. There are strong links to poverty because of these ongoing consequences. She is also likely to have a child before her body is matured, leading to even more complications.

However, in my community, I see real reason for hope. We only have a decade to go but I am seeing change in Kuria compared to when I was a girl.

When I was small, other girls wouldn't play with me. Why? Because I was a "mosagame" - an uncut girl. While most of my peers were going through the rite of passage at 12 or 13, I remained uncut. The reason? My father believed strongly that his daughters should not be cut. He understood that women who were uncut can still get married and have children because he went to a school with girls from cutting and non-cutting communities.

The expectation that a girl should be cut was so strong in Kuria, that my father's decision to protect me and my sister's came at great cost. He was killed because of his desire to protect me. So at the age of 8, I lost my dad.

While this is a great sadness in my life, it is also my driver. Many in my community still believe is not possible to get married and have children if you do not go through FGM/C, because there are many misconceptions that drive the practice continuing.

But I am seeing change. I am driven to protect my sisters and other girls from being cut because of my father’s legacy. I work in the community through my organisation, SEF Engage Foundation,  and as a global advocate against FGM/C and child marriages with organisations like Orchid Project, and we are definitely making progress.

Increasingly, I see parents who decide to go against the grain and abandon cutting. Parents like Chacha and Robi, whose daughter Boke ran away from home to a safe house for girls at risk of FGM/C. Robi, Boke’s mother, asked if I could help, because she knew about my work and hoped I could help persuade her husband not to have their daughter cut, so she could come home. I went with a child protection officer and had a dialogue for hours with Chacha, who came to understand how FGM/C harms a girl throughout her life. Now he works with my organisation and is himself an advocate against the practice.

So we see that change is possible. But we cannot make this change one-by-one, parent-by-parent.

To realise the Sustainable Development Goal of ending FGM/C by 2030, and President Kenyata’s 2022 pledge, we need more resources at the grassroots. More and more young people are coming out against the cut. More men are saying they don’t want their sisters and future wives to be cut - and this is very powerful.

To achieve a change, communities must galvanise around the SDGs and consolidate efforts to ensure people know what these goals mean, and relate it to their actions. If we do this, communities will start to shift away from harmful practices.

The future holds much hope for girls in my community and, I believe, globally. Now I know it is possible to end FGM/C in our generation.