17 June 2014

How community action is tackling FGM in Pokot

Guest blog by Kabete Benard.

We are grateful to Kabete Benard for sharing this insight into community development work in Pokot County in Kenya where FGM is still widely practised.

Community Effort in Development (CED) is a community based organisation (CBO) founded in 2012 and registered by the ministry of gender and social services Reg no 2012/3179. The organisation is geared towards fight against the harmful practices of female genital mutilation (FGM) and early forced marriage which are commonly practiced by the Pokot community. Awareness about the harmful effect of FGM in Pokot County that comprises of four districts West Pokot, North Pokot, Central Pokot and South Pokot is a priority.

Pokot County is located in rift valley; it borders the following counties Turkana to the north, Baringo to the east, Elgeyo markwet and transnzoia to the south and the republic of Uganda to the west. Pokot County covers area of 9,169.42km and has population of 512,690 with population density of 56 people per km2. In the Pokot FGM is seen as a rite of passage, confirming a girls progression to womanhood and is usually carried out on girls between 9 to 15 years old. It is closely linked to early forced marriage with girls often being forcibly married to older men soon after FGM.

FGM is a surgical procedure that is usually done without anaesthetics or clean tools and amongst the Pokot involves the partial or complete removal of the clitoris and total removal of labia and covering the urethra and vagina while only leaving a small opening for the passage of urine. This painful and traumatic procedure has long and short term effects. Many girls and women die from the procedure either due to infection brought about by the unsanitary tools being used or because of a tremendous loss of blood.  Life-long problems also include chronic pain, painful sexual relations obstructed labour in child birth and psychological trauma. FGM is not reversible, has no health advantages and is not required by any religion. Much of Pokot County is remote and isolated with high poverty levels and FGM and child marriage is a source of getting income and wealth. Therefore, against this backdrop of poverty and limited choices, many families continue these practices as their only means for the family to get wealth. Without being cut, a girl is not considered a woman and she may not be married or attend public function within the community.

CED has absorbed the staff from the former Sentinelles Pokot program French NGO which worked in Pokot County for fourteen years but unfortunately had to end its work due to funding challenges and other administrative issues. The staff are therefore experienced and committed to help in curbing harmful practices and safeguarding those at risk. The organisation comprises a mixed team of village advocacy members who are reformed excisors and traditional birth attendance, a staff coordinator, an administrator, two social workers and one nurse who attend to girls who need medical assistance from FGM or rape cases after forced into marriage. Most of CED’s work is providing school awareness training and village advocacy meetings to encourage the abandonment of harmful practices. In addition they help ensure the safety of girls at risk of FG and in December 2013 provided refuge to six girls.  

CED believes that FGM and child marriage can only be effectively combated by sensitising people the harmful effects of these practices and that alternative approaches of ensuring education and productive future for girls will help the families and the wider community. CED is committed to take advocacy activities to these remote places where FGM and early forced marriage is still common practice. Increased education and involving whole communities in dialogues on the health and social impacts of FGM will change community perception and attitudes enabling them to make the decision to abandon FGM and child marriage.

The latest update from the project is that they are no longer able to support rescued girls at its centre due to financial challenges but the office remains open for open to give advice and support advocacy work. Currently there is no field activity but this will resume as soon as funding is secured and there are a lot of invitations for advocacy work with schools and villages in the coming months ahead of the traditional times for FGM in August and December, during the school holidays.

28 Too Many hopes that by sharing about this important community work with the Pokot people we will help CED and other organisations who are both protecting girls and changing attitudes towards FGM continue their life saving and life-changing work. Our aim is that through our approach of research, networking and advocacy we can provide knowledge, tools, support and connections to help those working in communities and that together we will end FGM.

If you would like to help in the fight to end FGM, please donate to fund our work, like us of Facebook or follow us on Twitter. Please also get in touch via info@28toomany.org if you would like more information about CED.