FGM Threat in Central Pokot Triggers KELC Response to Save Twelve Girls
By Candise Heinlein
The final act of a drama that began in July 2010 was played out in early December as the KELC team consisting of Alice Mwaringa (KELC Women’s Coordinator), Darius Nyamai (KELC Malaria and HV/AIDS Coordinator), and Emmanuel Chambi (KELC evangelist and facilitator on human rights), together with Candise Heinlein (volunteer in the Communications Department), traveled to Central Pokot to sensitize the communities on the dangers of female genital mutilation (FGM, or female genital cut) and its violations of women’s and children’s rights. Seminars were held 1–4 December 2010 in three different villages in Central Pokot, ending with a joint worship service and mass baptism on Sunday, 5 December.
In July, twelve young girls had approached David Maundu, an evangelist at the KELC Kitale Mission, asking him to help them escape the annual December FGM ceremonies. His call to rescue the twelve girls initiated a plan for KELC’s response to this cry for help: A team would conduct human rights seminars in the villages of Central Pokot where the FGM rites ceremony was to be performed. Because of the distance between the villages and Kitale, details about the supporters of the practice and those who could help the girls were sketchy. On 30 November, the team left for Kitale and the villages beyond with little knowledge of what they would find there.
Alice Mwaringa, KELC Women's Coordinator (front right) sits with women of Kanglikwan Congregation to facilitate a discussion of their rights.
The first village approached by the team was the location of the Kanglikwan Congregation of KELC. Samuel Nakapel leads the thirty-member congregation, which meets for worship under a tree. The entire community was invited to the seminar. Deacon Chambi facilitated the discussions on human rights. He began by quoting Proverbs 14:34 and speaking of human rights in home, church, and government. He related his own family experiences to illustrate the rights of children. In Tanzania and Kenya, fathers have the rights to the best pieces of chicken and women and children are given other parts of the chicken, such as the legs and neck. This illustration led to discussions of the rights of women and children in this village. The men, women, and children were divided to encourage open discussions about the rights they had and those they lacked. Nyamai spoke to the groups about the dangers of FGM and HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. The group discussions revealed that the men made the decision to have their daughters undergo genital cut or not and decided whom they would marry. The women asked for the right to avoid FGM and the freedom to select their own marriage partners. After the seminar, the women vowed not to engage in FGM any more.
The second village the team visited revealed child abuse practices that were not exposed in Kenya. The village was Takaywa, and Sekerot Primary School was the venue for the meeting. Village officials present were Musa Lotidomo, lay leader of the congregation, and Chief Joseph Ayomo, who is also a government councilor. The seminar followed the same format as in Kanglikwan and was open to the entire community. However, the abuses revealed during the divided group discussions surprised even the Kenyan members of the team. The group of youth contained only boys as the young girls aged twelve to sixteen were being secluded in preparation for the FGM ceremonies. The boys told a story laden with extreme child abuse. The boys are driven from their homes at the age of five to live in the forest with whatever clothes they have on their backs because the families’ small grass huts are not big enough to house all of the children, and the parents do not build additional houses for them. The girls are married off at early ages (as early as twelve) to get them out of the homestead and to collect dowries of goats and cattle. The parents are drunk most of the time and will not pay the school fees for the children to go to school. Children rarely receive wholesome meals. The culture upholds cattle rustling, which involves sending the boys armed with AK47s to raid cattle. While narrating the in-depth cultural practice among the Pokot, the misty-eyed boy relating the storysaid, “Some have been killed.” It was noteworthy that the boys spoke for the absent girls in pleading for the end of FGM rites and the cessation of early marriages to 60-year-old men so the girls can finish school.
Through the women’s and men’s discussions of their rights, the team discovered that the men accused the women of supporting FGM rites. The adults blamed each other for disharmony in the home. The men have multiple wives and both husbands and wives engage in infidelity. Passive aggressive behaviors in the women, such as denial of conjugal rights, were evidence of the contempt the women felt toward the men. After dinner, church members gathered for worship and singing. Young boys danced, sung, and jumped with innate joy, forgetting for a moment that they would soon be going into the forest to sleep with only what was on their backs. Later in the evening, the women met separately with Mwaringa to discuss their side of the story. The following day, the women of the church declared, “We will not do FGM any more.”
The third village the team visited was the home of the twelve girls who approached Ev. Maundo in July. Samson Ruto led the congregation of twenty members in the village of Chamali. The team arrived the day the ceremony was being conducted and did not know if the chiefs would support the girls in avoiding FGM. Assistant chiefs Elijah Kasenya and Joseph Rikilem attended the seminar. No children or youth attended the seminar so only the women and men divided for group discussion. It was revealed that the women supported the Pokot cultural practice of FGMand demanded that girls participate. It was difficult for the team members to understand what motivated the women to support the practice.
Later, the team was happy to hear that Chief Elijah rescued eight of the girls from the cut. One narrowly escaped; she was lying on the ground about to be cut when the chief rescued her. When asked why the girls were rescued, both chiefs declared, “To support higher education, to eliminate poverty.”
From the results of a separate meeting between Mwaringa and the women of the church, the KELC team learned that the church is having an impact on cultural practices. It was indeed the women who advocated for FGM solely for cultural reasons without any kind of monetary gain or other incentive. However, the women of the church are changing this. They are being educated through the church-sponsored Kiter Adult Education program and want their daughters to be educated as well. The twelve girls who approached the evangelist were daughters of these women. Although their mothers do not advocate FGM, their daughters’ peers and other women in the community who do not belong to the church coerced their daughters to participate. Mwaringa discussed the possibility of sending the girls to the Cana Girls’ Rescue Home (CGRH) in East Pokot. The home provides shelter for girls trying to avoid FGM and educates them. CGRH Director Ven Christopher Chochoihe had already agreed to welcome the girls into the home. The parents will visit the school and then decide if they will send their girls.
Saturday 4 December, the team met with the girls from the village, including the girls who were rescued. Chambi gave his human rights presentation. Nyamai explained the dangers of FGM, debunked long-standing reasons for FGM such as increasing cleanliness, and lectured them about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. Heinlein related the rights of women in the United States and explained that FGM was not a part of her culture. Mwaringa exhorted the girls, “You have to stand for your rights.” She asked them if they had aspirations. Some wanted to be teachers, doctors, and lawyers. To fulfill their dreams, they had to avoid cultural influences that would lead them into early marriage and deny them an education. Finally one of the girls stated, “God gave me my body, and I don’t want it to be cut.” The girls unanimously vowed to avoid FGM and try to educate others to avoid it.
The trip ended with a joint worship service on Sunday in which twenty children and youth were baptized. Deacon Chambi declared, “If you want to follow Jesus, …mothers, you have to stop FGM.” The villagers were thankful that the team had come and asked that they return during school holidays in June and September to conduct more seminars.
The seminars were financed by special donations from KELC partners in Germany. Future seminars will require special funding as well.