6 February 2020, is International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). In Kenya, this year’s event is being held in Isiolo County. The theme for this year is ‘Unleashing Youth Power: One decade of accelerating actions for zero female genital mutilation’.
In the build-up to this event, a youth caravan traveled through four FGM hotspot counties of Samburu, Isiolo, Meru, and Embu, raising awareness among young people to accelerate the ending of FGM, and the successes so far.
The caravan was led by Aisha Hussein, 25, an anti-FGM youth activist from Isiolo County. Herself an FGM survivor, she has been leading these awareness raising campaigns since 2017 and is a leading youth voice against harmful traditional practices, especially against girls.
“I became an anti-FGM activist after I gave birth to my first kid,” she explains. “I had a lot of difficulties giving birth and had to undergo a caesarean section. This got me thinking a lot about FGM.”
Aisha realized that her difficulties in giving birth could be partly attributed to the fact that she had been undergone FGM when she was just 7 years old. She reached out to her peers through a WhatsApp group and encouraged them to share their stories and experiences on FGM and childbirth.
“We realized that many girls were suffering in silence,” Aisha continues. “We decided to form an organization called Every Girl’s Dream.”
Through this organization, Aisha and her team are giving girls a platform to speak out, share their experiences and report potential cases of FGM. They also advocate for the rights of girls in Isiolo, Embu and Meru Counties.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 200 million girls and women globally have undergone female genital mutilation in the countries where the practice is concentrated. The majority of girls are cut before they turn 15 years old, Aisha being one of them.
Girls who undergo FGM face short-term complications such as severe pain, shock, bleeding, infections, and difficulty in passing urine, as well as long-term consequences for their sexual, reproductive health and mental health.
Since 2008, UNICEF and UNFPA have been leading the largest ever global programme to eliminate FGM. In Kenya, the programme focuses on 22 hotspot counties. There have been significant achievements, with President Kenyatta committing to ending FGM in Kenya by 2022.
“We give emotional support to FGM survivor and use uncut girls as role models and mentors to hundreds of girls in these counties,” Aisha says. “This is proving very successful. There have been a few incidences of backlash from the perpetrators, but these have been reported and dealt with through official channels.”
Aisha joins her team for a group selfie, before continuing the caravan to reach more girls and young people with anti-FGM messages.
By Lucas Odhiambo, UNICEF Kenya