Nkatha* is a victim of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Her grandmother, thinking it was the right thing to do, helped facilitate Nkatha to undergo the ‘cut’ at the tender age of nine to fulfil a cultural norm.
Nkatha only vaguely remembers the finer details but she can recall when a female visitor arrived at her house.
She explains: “My grandmother called me outside and began talking to me. I just remember being very terrified and wishing I could run away, but it was very dark. Then later two women, one of them was my aunt, held me down. The room was dimly lit. The next thing I felt was a very sharp pain. I attempted to cry but my aunt told me not to cry. A few minutes later, it was all done. I was in a lot of pain. I was then carried and put to bed and my aunt stayed with me in the house.”
“My grandmother congratulated me for being brave and is proud that now I am a woman, I refuse to see it that way. A part of my body was removed without my permission. No one asked if I wanted to be cut or not, they just did it because it was right to them. I am bitter because I do not know where they took that part of my body and because my rights were violated and there is nothing I can do to change the past. Why me?” sixteen-year-old Nkatha asks, her bitterness palpable in her tear-glazed eyes.
Dangers of FGM
Once a girl has undergone FGM, she is regarded as an adult and can enter into early marriage, meaning dropping out of school is inevitable. Nkatha contemplated leaving school but decided to stay on. She is now in class seven and hopes to become a doctor one day.
“I don’t support FGM at all. I hope that my younger sister will not have to go through what I went through and I have told my grandmother I will report her to the authorities if she tries to force her to undergo the cut,” says Nkatha.
Even though FGM is outlawed in Kenyan law, the practice is still widespread among many communities in Kenya. Okeyo agrees that social stigma is widespread especially within the school environment. Girls who have not gone through FGM often feel under pressure to get cut in order to gain social acceptance.
To address FGM, Plan International has been implementing the ‘Building Skills for Girls for Life’ project’ in Tharaka for the last three years with a focus on education. The aim of the project is to empower girls to make better informed decisions and reach out to boys and men to influence their attitudes and beliefs.
Support from the community
To further step up the fight against FGM, Plan is joining efforts with the cultural elders in the Tharaka Nithi community to seek their support in changing attitudes toward FGM and other forms of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) against girls and women.
Through working with the elders, who command considerable influence and respect within the community, Plan hopes to enlighten them on the FGM prohibition law and empower them to implement the law in their community.
The greatest hindrance to ending FGM is that the practice is so secretive that it is very difficult to identify the people who perform the circumcisions and the parents who ask for them to be done.
Plan International is working with the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the anti-FGM Board and the magistrate’s court to ensure that the FGM laws are adhered to.
“To end this form of violence against girls and women there is need to enforce legislation so that victims get justice and perpetrators face the law.” Okeyo says.
*Name has been changed to protect identity