It was during the language, gender and leadership conference last week that her story came up. I have been in the same class with her in college since 2013, but this side of her story had never come up. At the conference, matters female genital mutilation FGM came up and there she was, talking about her personal experience with the cut.
Lilian Nowell Chepchumba hails from Barpello, Kolowa ward, Tiaty Constituency in Baringo County.
Unlike many girls in her community, Lilian did not undergo the cut. At age 10, she was taken to boarding school by the Incarnate World Sisters through a sponsorship. She was in boarding school from her class six through to class eight. The sisters had started a project to fight FGM and to Lilian’s advantage, her mother was part of the facilitators in the project. When she went back home after the years she was in school however, Lilian was mocked. Her mother as well received a lot of hate from the community for helping her daughter escape the cut.
“Every time I go to any community mobilization program, the first thing they ask is whether I am clean, meaning circumcised.”
FGM is real, and as the participants in the gender conference would learn through Lilian’s story, its effects are devastating.
“In August, six girls very close to me underwent the cut, 3 of whom are my close cousins. Unfortunately two of those girls lost their lives due to excessive bleeding.”
In her community, it is considered a taboo for uncircumcised girls to even talk about FGM.
“When you talk about it, you are considered a betrayer by the community.”
For those that undergo the cut, the next step is almost always marriage, therefore depriving them the chance to continue with their studies. As such the percentage of girls in school is lower than that of boys.
In 2016, Lilian founded an organization, Rose flower girls, to champion for girl education. The organization also helps teach young girls about menstrual hygiene and awareness on the dangers of FGM. She says they run mentorship programs that help give the girls in the community exposure. Like taking them to the nearing County, Nakuru on a trip to show them what women are doing. The organization also organizes holiday camps to help keep the girls active during holidays. Alternative rites of passage are also initiated where the girls are trained on life skills. The girls are also taught on sexual and reproductive health as well as cancer and how to stay healthy. Of crucial importance is teenage pregnancies as Lilian says that is teenagers get pregnant, they will undergo the cut during the pregnancy or just after giving birth, double tragedy. As such they are taught the importance of abstinence. On this, Lilian has the support of the church, area chiefs and Non-Governmental organizations like world Vision. Her area chief, Irene Kakuka helps rescue girls from the cut and as expected, faces a number of challenges as she is not respected by the community for standing against a custom so ingrained in the community.
Being a cultural practice that has been practiced for eons, young girls grow up knowing it is normal and compulsory. When she was growing up, Lilian was not an exception.
“At some point I really wanted to be cut because that is what I was made to believe”
Lilian calls for a change of approach in the fight to end FGM. She notes that there are several NGOs but little has been achieved. With her team she hopes to run sensitization programs through the available local radio stations, introduce mentorship clubs in schools and is suggesting that lessons on the dangers of FGM be incorporated in the school curricula.
“Every interested party should come and help the girls. Men should be fully involved as this is not a women-only affair. Ending FGM requires collective action as it is a national disaster.”
In order to fasten the process of ending the practice, Lilian suggests that more girls should be taken to school to raise their literacy levels. She calls on the government to enforce the FGM law to the fullest. Finally, she insists that empowerment should be done for both boys and girls.
As the world marks the International Day of the girl this week, it is my hope that this and other issues affecting the girl will be handled.