Last week I joined Tony Mwebia, Domtila Chesang in Kapenguria West Pokot County to celebrate the International Day of the Girl. Unlike in other places, the program in Kapenguria involved the training of young men from different parts of the county on their role in ending female genital mutilation and other forms of gender based violence.
About 100 young men were trained and their contributions sought in as far as their role in ending FGM and other forms of GBV is concerned. The two-day training program on Thursday and Friday culminated in a celebration on Saturday. The young men are now part of a movement which will spread the message to their peers in the different villages and sub-locations where they come from. They participated in drawing action plans and structuring the way forward.
Among the things that came up in the training was that most of the violence that women and girls face are perpetrated by the men. The young men had countless examples of the ways in which such violence has been meted on women and a consensus was reached on the need to stop them. Conversations on FGM took canter stage as this is also done on women for marriageability reasons. After a detailed explanation and demonstration on what FGM is and how it is done, most of the young men were left in awe and as such pledged not to marry ladies who were cut. They also vowed to end the practice right from their families, and to not make the practice a prerequisite for marriage. Part of the session also involved the debunking of myths and misconceptions about FGM and this helped in fostering the understanding of the practice and to rule out any flimsy reasons for carrying out the practice on girls and women.
The young men were also taken through the effects of FGM including fistula and how that affects women and girls.
30 year old Ibrahim Leshangole comes from Lelan. Unlike his peers, he married an uncircumcised lady. He says he faced a lot of challenges for making this decision even from his family.
“There was a lot of rejection, even my own father refused to help me with dowry. Even after bringing her home, my father couldn’t even allow her to do some chores like milking, so I had to relocate. I am happy that now, he has come to accept that women must not be circumcised.”
About the involvement of men in the fight to end FGM, Leshangole says, “We as men are mostly the reason why these girls have to go through the cut. Involving the men is really a game changer. It is a very noble campaign and I hope the county government will come in to help promote his campaign so that no more girls are cut.”
Abel Kakuko Lokeris, a participant from Ortum lauded the program saying most of the things he learnt were mostly hidden in the past and that men were not aware. “I have learnt a lot that I hadn’t known before. It is good that now we are being involved. Our girls have been facing the cut because they thought we wouldn’t accept and marry them if they were not. Right now we are informed about the challenges those that have undergone the cut face and we would like to bring that to an end.” He pledged to take conversation forward by training more men from his locality.
Domtila Chesang is an anti-FGM activist and the director, Beyond FGM, an organization that works to end FGM in West Pokot County. She organized the training. According to her, men have been the missing link in the fight to end FGM for so long. She says that for a long time the conversations on ending gender-based violence and FGM have been centred on girls and this informed her decision to talk to men and train them on the international day of the girl.
“If these men go out there and say they won’t marry girls who have been mutilated, then the girls will not undergo the cut”
“Most of the time women activists blame the men for perpetrating violence against women but we have not involved them in this conversation, this is the time”
Domtila plans to take the training and the conversation forward and to even reach other counties.
“We are creating a movement. This campaign won’t end here; we are going to take it down to the villages and even other counties. These young men are going to bring real change in the communities. This is an easy and in fact the fastest way to end violence against women.”
Tony Mwebia is an end FGM activist who has been on the forefront in championing for the involvement of men in the conversation to end FGM and other forms of violence against men and women. He runs the #MenEndFGM movement.
“For a long time we have really focused on enlightening the girl child and have forgotten the boy. The girls do not exist in a vacuum, they exist in a society where there are men. To be able to catalyse and make these activities move faster, we have to enlighten the boy child and men in general.”
“On this day of the girl, I would like to say that there is need to engage the men in the fight against FGM and gender-based violence in general. Because if we are talking to the girls only about teenage pregnancies, child marriages and ending FGM, what about the boy who is out there and has no idea about these issues? A girl cannot be pregnant alone.”
“There is no way we are going to achieve SDG 5 if the men are not involved.”
Beyond the international days that are marked to push for an end in gender based violence, Tony calls for more activities throughout the year. “To continue the conversation away from the international days, we have to ensure that we have activities that everyone is involved in throughout the year- not to wait for international days then make a lot of noise and wait for another international day without doing anything in between.”
As the conversation to involve men in the fight against FGM and other forms of gender based violence continues, it is the hope of many that this yields more results and that there will be a reduction in these cases. Let us all be part of this conversation, educate each other and take active roles in ensuring that no other girl or woman becomes an FGM statistic. And to all the men, as Tony puts it, “There is nothing wrong in talking about women issues.”
I am here for her, are you?