25 November 2011

What is the 16 Days of Activism Campaign?

It’s an annual global campaign taking place from 25th November – 10th December, aiming to raise awareness around gender based violence (GBV). It begins on International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (25th November) and ends on International Human Rights Day (10th December), symbolically linking violence against women (VAW) as a violation against human rights.

Why get involved?

Since it began in 1991, 3700 organisations in 164 countries have participated, including Restored.

As we begin today by highlighting the campaign to end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) we hope these 16 days will help you to:

• Raise awareness about GBV at local, national, regional and internal levels.
• Share new ideas and strategies with Restored’s audience and elsewhere.
• Demonstrate global solidarity to eliminate VAW.
• Lobby government to implement promises to eliminate GBV.

What can I do?
• Read and comment on the blogs.
• Share with others, ‘Like’ this blog, put it on your Facebook page and Twitter etc!
• Visit 28TooMany and keep in touch with how to end FGM.
• Write to your Government.
• Join Restored’s, ‘First Man Standing’ campaign.

Walking with Maasai
‘Cutting girls is something our people have done for hundreds of years’, says Nashiru, the FGM Circumciser in a Maasai Community. ‘No one can convince us it’s wrong’. Women believe an uncut woman will be oversexed, compared to a cut girl who will remain pure until marriage, and faithful afterwards.

A recently cut 11 year old girl, Toshi, states although she dreaded the pain, she looked forward to becoming a woman. ‘If you’re not cut, no one will talk to you’. The children laugh at you as you’re still a child’. However, despite her own willingness to be cut, she did not support FGM, and insists she will not permit her girls to be cut. ‘We are taught in our school health club that FGM is a harmful practice, and I wish the Maasai would stop forcing girls to do it’, she said.

WHO has implemented a campaign of large scale distribution of literature to Kenya’s Maasailand to heighten awareness of the harmful effects of FGM. One headteacher, Rebecca Pateli, recalls ‘several injuries and even a death from FGM’ in her community.

One of the difficulties of eradicating FGM brings with it the consequences of forever altering the traditions of what is one of the few authentic African societies. The Maasai have only a tenuous hold on their culture, as I experienced in my visit to Kenya in October. The community I visited have been forced to give up their nomadic lifestyle due to the recent drought that has led to the loss of their cattle. How can human rights change agents help the Maasai turn away from the harmful aspects of their tradition (FGM and early forced marriage) and not taint the authenticity of their rich culture?

One way to create change is to offer alternative rituals or rites of passage (ARP). The work of Cath Holland in Central Pokot, as shown in the film Abandon the Knife, shows over 170 girls standing up to their community and choosing to not have FGM. It also shows the benefits of completing education for girls, as my favourite line in the film states that ‘cows (from a dowry) can die yet the benefits of education can bring milk for life!’ Another ARP ceremony will occur in early December in Pokot, saving hundred more girls from FGM.

A Maasai education charity further adds ‘an educated girl with an income in a developing country reinvests 90% of her of her earnings in her family, compared to a boy who invests 35%’. Each extra year of primary school will add 10% and secondary school 25% to a girl’s income. Educated girls marry later, have fewer children, less birth complications (obstetric fistula) and add to their country’s economy. One Maasai community I visited had become followers of Christianity, under a Maasai Pastor. I heard from a strong young 18 year old woman who has become a teacher. As the third girl of 7 siblings, she had run away to escape FGM at around age 10, despite her elder sisters being cut, and later was reconciled with her family. She, and two 16 year olds from this community, have remained uncut, and the younger girls are completing their schooling. No younger girl has been cut in the 100 strong community. This gives hope that changes in world view can lead to sustained change.

Helping end FGM requires a combination of community education; psycho-social support of cut girls, and lobbying and advocacy to governments. My desire is that 28TooMany will provide a free information e-portal to share who’s doing what across the charities in Africa standing against FGM. This can help them share their good practices, knowledge and experience to see FGM end. Do help us by telling us of projects you know that can join our initiative! Email us at info@28toomany.org.