Eva Wilson Muhiri, a 17-year old girl in form 3 at Gokeharaka Mixed Secondary School in Kuria, Migori County, recalls with spasms of painful memories how, when she was only 13 years old and in standard 7, her parents already had a grand plan of how she was to get married immediately after completing standard 8. Eva’s parents were determined to marry her off and get cows for bride price in return, and nothing would stop them from this cause. But for any girl to be married, the Kuria community customs demand that she has to be “cut” (undergo FGM), which is done traditionally and has countless adverse health effects on the victims, with no known medical or social benefit. Despite the sloppy downside of FGM, Eva’s parents pushed her against her will to join the bandwagon and get cut. At first, she was merely hesitant and would have yielded had she not have met the ADRA Kenya/UNICEF team of field officers, community champions and volunteers who helped her solidify her resolve to stay away from the cut by hook or crook.
As a result of her hardline decision against FGM, Eva was forced to hide all day in bushes till late evening and sometimes even spend cold nights amidst the risky shrubs, just to avoid being caught by the chanting and knife-wielding groups of youth charged with scouting girls who had not been cut.
Eventually, Eva completed her primary school education, but her parents disowned her, leaving her to her own devices. Soon, despair and self-pity engulfed her. She developed very low self-esteem. Her parent’s bitter treatment towards her led her to think that she was not worthy of anything good in life, much less a decent education. At this point, Eva remembered ADRA Kenya’s community dialogues, which were part of the organization’s campaign against FGM. She promptly joined the dialogues and didn’t miss a single session.
“When I completed the dialogue sessions, I was greatly empowered with communication and assertive skills. I know my rights to life, good health and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to prevent people from snatching these rights from me,” Eva recounts.
Later, Eva joined Gokeharaka Secondary School, where she is currently in form three and hoping to complete her form four and join the university soon. Her parents did not relent in their quest to have her cut. They have been so persistently on her case that she had to run away from home to stay with Ms Tabitha, one of the Anti-FGM Campaigners within her community.
“I thank ADRA Kenya and UNICEF for empowering hundreds of young girls like me to say no to this outdated practice and pursue our education instead. I will reject every act or practice that may ruin my future life. With ADRA Kenya, I’m sure I have a companion who will assist me through my education, help me stay away from the cut and early marriage till I am ready. I will also empower my fellow girls who are at risk to say no to FGM.”
From Eva, we meet 16-year-old Agnes Robi Nyangata, a Form 2 student from Tisinya Village, Kuria. As a young girl, Agnes had always wanted to be a high achiever and do the best with her life. This proved very difficult, especially when her dad started introducing her to the topic of FGM. On one occasion, when her father called her and demanded that she gets ready to be cut the next season, she raised her concerns around the safety of the act, including the fact that some girls have previously bled to death, her dad scolded her and rubbished her concerns. He told her she would never get married and bear children if she defied the cultural practice.
“He became so harsh and ordered me to stop asking him stupid questions,” recounts Agnes. “I was too scared to ask more questions, but I knew this was going to be a difficult fight for me” Agnes Robi stood her ground, despite daily urges and persuasions from her family to get cut. Her parents ostracized her, her brothers derided her, and her friends mocked and teased her. When Agnes was almost giving in to the intense pressure, she was informed by her friend about the ADRA Kenya’s ongoing dialogues with girls on FGM. She decided to join the dialogues, a decision she has not regretted to date.
“ADRA Kenya and UNICEF became my pillar to lean on,” says Agnes. “They empowered me, gave me hope to stand firm and fight for my rights. I will always say no to FGM because courtesy of ADRA Kenya and UNICEF, I know the dangers that it brings such as early marriages, fistula, excessive bleeding and even death.”
Agnes Robi has learnt through ADRA and UNICEF’s interventions in Kuria that every girl has fundamental rights that are inalienable and non-transferable but must be lived out fully and boldly.
Both Eva Wilson and Agnes Robi have resolved to become Anti-FGM champions in their communities, schools, and other spheres of influence to assist more girls at risk like them to say no to the cut and secure their education and future.
The case of Betty Boke is no different. Her childhood was only smooth up till standard 5. Immediately she was accepted into standard 6; her father started pushing her to go for the cut. When she declared her stand against FGM, the entire family, including her mother and siblings, rose against her and regarded her as an outcast. They were furious at her. No one was willing to talk to her or even hear her out. Betty underwent a lot of psychological torture. They threatened to kick her out of the home for daring to challenge their culture.
In Betty Bokes entire extended family, all females underwent FGM except her. She was the first to dare refuse, even young as she was. When she hit standard 7, Betty’s dad became strangely nice to her. He could pay her fees, buy her personal effects and shower her with gifts. She enjoyed these but not without questions in her mind.
“Later, it turned out my dad was only luring me into FGM with gifts and favours,” Betty remembers. “When he prompted me if I was now ready, I maintained I was never going to get the cut. At this, he withdrew all the gifts and provisions. Currently, I’m in form two and dad declined to pay my school fees, buy me sanitary pads and other personal effects. I’m suffering worse than an orphan when my parents are still alive and working.”
At some point, Betty’s uncles compelled her dad to take responsibility and pay her fees. They even contributed money enough for first term fees and paid for her to start the process. Despite these efforts, her dad remained adamant. She accrued significant fee balances term after term till she was introduced to ADRA Kenya. The organization made arrangements to assist offset her fees. Even though she still has some fee balances, the situation has improved. ADRA Kenya and UNICEF empowered her to stand her ground as long as she was doing the right thing. Betty is only living with a singular hope: to stay away from the cut, complete her education successfully and become a professional, a vivid example to her generation of girls that it is indeed possible to stay away from retrogressive cultural practices and still excel in life.
Story by Ongala Maurice – Communications & Partnership Specialist, ADRA Kenya