18 August 2018

Creating Safe Spaces For Girls In Taita Taveta County

Guest Blog by Hope Gloria Mugambi Mwanyuma, Founder: Hope Alive Africa Initiative.

A safe space for girls is a place where women and girls can go to at any time to feel safer and empowered and have access to information, education, recreational activities, support and services.

A community can serve as a safe space for girls by ensuring that girls are empowered and protected from violence and the practice of retrogressive cultures against girls. Safe spaces for girls can be used for various activities such as: GBV case management, counselling, psychosocial support, safety planning and risk reduction and skills-building.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is one of the unsafe practices that has made many communities in the world unsafe for girls. FGM is highly linked to obstetric complications and gynaecological problems, and long-term negative effects on women’s wellbeing. It is also often linked to child marriage which also has long-term negative effects on women’s health and wellbeing.

Taita Taveta County is one of the counties in Kenya where FGM is practised on days-old girls. This is because the perpetrators want to keep it a secret and therefore do it fast enough before the law catches up with them. A media report by Standard Group Published on June 14th 2017 revealed that Taveta girls are sneaked into Tanzania for circumcision and officials in Taveta sub-county have also alleged that parents are secretly taking local girls into Tanzania for circumcision. County Area Advisory Committee members said in their report that FGM is still common in the county despite concerted efforts by State agencies to eradicate it. They said efforts to eliminate the practice were frustrated by the ferrying of the girls to Tanzania. According to the report, the practice is still rife in parts of Taveta. The committee noted that parents were colluding with unscrupulous people from Tanzania to circumcise their daughters.

County political leaders have on several occasions condemned high cases of female genital mutilation in the county. They mentioned that reports from hospitals in the county indicate that nearly 50 per cent mothers have undergone FGM, which results in complications during birth and conditions like Fistula. County Children's Officer informed the journalist that between January and March this year, nine cases of FGM were reported in the region. We have been reporting high cases of absenteeism among young girls especially in the first two weeks of re-opening schools. On inquiry, the school administration discovered the minors had been taken to Tanzania for circumcision.

An overwhelming 81% of women and girls who have heard of the practice thought it was not beneficial with the most popular reason for supporting the practice being social acceptance. Preservation of virginity and better marriage prospects and cleanliness or hygiene are reasons that have contributed to the rampant practice of FGM.

Hope Alive Initiative (HAI) a Youth Led Community based organization based in Taita Taveta has been helping create safe spaces for young people to discuss SRH challenges and solutions to what they encounter. HAI, through our Team Leader in Taveta, Mr Kenneth Mande Mcharo, is making efforts to help create awareness among young people in Taveta on the dangers of FGM. We ensure that young people get the right information about FGM and other SRH rights through organised seminars at a sub-location and schools level.

If we want to win this fight against FGM we must include the youthful generation and especially men. They have an important role to play in both fuelling and curbing the vice. We are enlightening young people and empower them so that they can be change agents and be able to lead the fight against FGM in their communities.