AWEPA, in collaboration with Plan International Kenya and the Kenya Women Parliamentary Association (KEWOPA), organised a conference in Tharaka Nithi county, Kenya, on 29 July 2016 as part of AWEPA/Plan regional Obligation to Protect (O2P): Agents of Change Unite against FGM/C programme, which promotes the abandonment of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) within one generation in selected communities in Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. In addition, outreach visits were organised in Mt. Elgon and Elgeyo Marakwet counties.
AWEPA recently established an anti-FGM Caucus in the Kenyan Parliament with an active membership of 22 members, some of whom joined the delegation in the series of activities in the three counties concerned (Tharaka Nithi; Mt. Elgon and Elgeyo Marakwet).
One main aim of the conference and outreach visits was to sensitise the local communities the Kenyan Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act, which outlaws the practice nationally.
A key participant of the activities, Hon. Linah Kilimo, Chair of the Anti-FGM Board, was instrumental in raising awareness about this Act. As a devoted campaigner against FGM/C, Hon. Kilimo was one of the front running lobbyists of the Anti-FGM Bill . In her role as Chair of KEWOPA at the time the bill was drafted, she helped to spearhead the campaign for the prohibition of FGM/C. Participants benefited from Hon. Kilimo’s knowledge and expertise, which she shared with the local community throughout both the outreach visits and the conference.
During the conference in Tharaka Nithi county, participants including parliamentarians, government officials, reformed practitioners, religious leaders, health officials, anti-FGM/C campaigners and community elders shared best practices for ending FGM/C, learning from the interventions implemented locally by Plan Kenya.
Following a lively plenary, the participants also undertook a visit to Kirimankari Primary School where they were able to meet with pupils.
The participants recognised that girls themselves are important agents of change in the fight against FGM/C. One pupil, Ms. Beth Gatheri, President of the Student Council, confidently addressed the delegation and reiterated the dangers of FGM/C. “If girls know the facts, they can say ‘no’ to circumcision and concentrate at school.”
Also as part of this event, a visit was undertaken to H.E. Samuel Ragwana, Governor of Tharaka Nithi, who pledged a rescue centre for girls as part of efforts to prevent FGM/C and protect its victims.
The outreach visits held in Mt. Elgon and Elgeyo Marakwet counties made up the initial outreach activities under the AWEPA/NIMD Strategic Partnership programme in Kenya. These activities aimed to draw an overview of the situation on the ground from the community members. In addition, the activities aimed to educate the different communities on the harmful effects of FGM/C.
During the visits, participants including representatives of the Anti-FGM Parliamentary Caucus and the Kenya Human Rights Association (another parliamentary caucus) denounced FGM/C and elaborated an Action Plan, setting out a way to work together towards the abandonment of the practice. The highest esteemed reformed practitioner, in highlighting the problems of raising income, after giving up the trade was promised a milk cow by the Women Representative of the county to provide an alternative source of income.
In Kapsowar, Elgeyo Marakwet County on 2 August 2016, participants discussed alternative rites of passage with Chief Clement K. Cheserek and elders from a number of constituencies. Such rituals could retain the cultural significance of a coming-of-age ceremony without causing physical harm to the girls involved.
As an important outcome of this outreach visit, Kapsowar leaders signed a community-wide declaration denouncing FGM/C and affirming their commitment to the total abandonment of the practice in their territories.
Another positive element of the outreach activities in the North Rift (Mt. Elgon and Elgeyo Marakwet counties) is that visiting opinion leaders from Tharaka Nithi accompanied the parliamentarians to strengthen the message against FGM/C.
Together, the discussions held during the conference in Tharaka Nithi county and the outreach activities in the North Rift constituted an important step in raising awareness about the harmful effects of FGM/C as well as the Kenyan Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act. The activities encouraged open discussion among a diverse group of actors, and aimed to unite these local community members in their work to end FGM/C and protect children’s rights.
The O2P project supported the Tharaka Nithi conference while the outreach activites were jointly supported by the O2P Project and the AWEPA/NIMD Strategic Partnership programme with the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs (NMFA).