By Natalie Robi Tingo 

 

I am tired of young girls from my community Kuria Community, Rural Kenya) being tallied in statistics of pain, suffering, and death.  They are more than scary figures; the more than 80% of girls as young as 8 years  who are risk at of undergoing female genital every cutting season who account for the more than 44 million girls aged 14 and younger who have undergone the cut The character of girls makes them well-placed to be leaders with dreams, ambitions, and goals for a better future – not just for themselves, but also for their community and country.

When a girl is born into my community, she is offered two stark paths for her future.

One path: between the ages of nine and twelve, she will undergo Female Genital Mutilation or Cutting (FGM/C), a brutal practice that is considered a rite of passage that officially marks her entry into adulthood.  This will involve cutting her clitoris and labia, often with unsterilized blades or knives and almost always without anesthetic. She will experience excruciating pain but will not cry if she can help it; crying is seen as a sign of cowardice.  She will potentially experience severe bleeding, infection, infertility, and even death. But if she does survive, her pain does not end with the cut of the blade. She relives the trauma for the rest of her life by the scar that is left, and a lack of comfortable and natural sexual sensation.  In most cases she will get married soon after receiving ‘the cut’, which means an end to her education.

Another path: she goes to school and graduates.  Her education helps her have a career, earn an income and raise a healthy family.  She is not subjected to FGM/C.

Today more than 200 million women and girls are living with the lifelong effects of the cut.  Of them, 44 million are girls aged 14 and younger, and the number is set to rise if we do nothing.  In Africa alone, 3 million girls are at risk of FGM/C. In Kenya, the Kuria community has one of the highest prevalence rates of FGM, placed at 84% of all girls, according to a recent report by the Kenya Health and Demographic survey.  To contextualize this, it means that 8 in every 10 girls from ages as young as eight are at a risk of being cut every single year, with Somali (94%) and Samburu (86%) coming in at first and second for proliferation of the practice. Understandably, FGM/C prevents millions of girls and young women worldwide from having a fair shot at life, thereby reducing their individual and collective opportunities for success.

Accordingly, we must as what role young people have in ending FGM/C, other forms of violence against women and girls, for their empowerment beneath the principles of gender equality?

Africa accounts for more than half of the entire world’s population – that in itself makes us the largest stakeholders by population size.  In Kenya, the movement to end FGM/C at the grassroots level is now being run by young people. They are rescuing girls, reporting cases to authorities that can intervene, and using education as a powerful tool for social change.  We also are the best fit to speak up about our issues; we are experts in issues affecting us.

Involvement of young people - especially young men, whose voices carry more weight in these patriarchal cultures - is vital.  Young people are great influencers against the cut, given the prevailing belief that a young man cannot marry uncircumcised girls (read: girls who have not been subjected to FGM/C) because there are social ramifications for men who do so.  This male fear of being ridiculed by outdated cultural beliefs is the reason many girls are pushed by their families secure their future through FGM/C. If we can create change within these communities through male voices proudly refusing to demand this practice of their future wives, women will be less coerced into being subjected to this violation due to social pressure.

In a few years, these young people are going to be parents, elders, opinion leaders, and politicians, and will be key decision makers in the community.  It is my hope that when this time comes, they will continue the work they have begun by influencing the behavior of their communities to abandon the cut.

Are we doing something to change the situation in our communities? Yes! Do we need to do more to speed up the process and realize zero FGM/C and other harmful cultural practices by 2030? Absolutely.  We have a collective responsibility to ensure that happens. But we also have that power.