Why Men are Key in #FightingTheCut

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The #EndFGM conversation has been going on for so long now. Mostly, women have been at the center of this conversation. However, men haven’t been left out in this. Tony Mwebia is one among the few men in Kenya who actively engages in the matter and believes that all men have a role to play in #FightingTheCut.

Tony Mwebia is an online and off-line SDG 5 advocate mainly focusing on ending Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and other harmful cultural practices. In his online campaigns he mainly focuses on rallying policy makers, NGOs and government agencies to engage more men  in the fight against FGM as he strongly believes engaging them will help catalyze this fight. Offline he engages men and boys through dialogues aimed at changing their perception and attitude towards this harmful cultural practice.

I had a lengthy conversation with Tony about this topic and why he passionately does what he does.

Is FGM practiced in your community? If so, what is the prevalence?

“According to Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) 2014 the prevalence of FGM in Meru community is tied at 31 %  with the Embu community which is way above the current national prevalence in Kenya which stands at 21%.”

Why do you write about matters FGM? What prompted you?

“Ending FGM is something I am passionate about. I write my website as a hobby and a way of sharing my experience, views and opinions with upcoming activists and everyone working in this field, having worked on ending FGM in Kenya for over 5 years with government agencies and NGOs.

Back in the year 2012 I had no idea what FGM was. It was by chance while volunteering with HIAS Refugee Trust of Kenya that an opportunity arose for me to work as a Project Assistant in the FGM Project. The Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act, the law that criminalizes FGM in Kenya had just been passed in the previous year. Our work involved sensitizing the urban refugees in Nairobi on among other things this law and the harmful effects of FGM. My turning point was a community dialogue we held in EastLeigh here I moderated the dialogue for Somali men. One man shared how he lost his wife during delivery and the baby one day later due to FGM complications, men shared how their loved ones were in and out of hospital due to infections and other complications and this was draining family resources, some confessed being forced to look for sex workers and women from other communities who did not practice FGM as having sex with their wives was not enjoyable. At this point it dawned on me that men also had stories about FGM but they rarely shared them due to ego issues. This was the beginning of the #MenENDFGM online campaign.”

Most of the anti-FGM activists are ladies, what keeps you at it? Kindly explain the concept of #MenEndFGM. What is the role of men in ending FGM?

“As a male #EndFGM Activist I believe ending FGM is everyone’s business. In my view men have been one of the main missing links in the fight against FGM. Rallying them to join this noble cause will help catalyze this fight. It is sad how quick we are to judge  men who ignorantly support this harmful cultural practice as most of them have no idea of what happens during the cut. In most cases the FGM ceremony is a reserve for women.

#MenENDFGM is an online and offline campaign that rallies men and boys from all over the world to join the noble cause of ending FGM and other harmful cultural practices.

Most if not all reasons for FGM point directly or indirectly to increasing marriageability. The question begs, who are the potential husbands? what if all men said they will marry uncut girls? (in doing so need not to discriminate those who have already been cut) Men yield massive power over several aspects of women lives as husbands, religious leaders, political leaders, cultural leaders among others. As such they have a big responsibility of ensuring women and girls are protected from this harmful cultural practice that affects their sisters, cousins, friends and wives.

The 200misnotjustanumber campaign, what does it seek to achieve?

UNICEF 2016; While the exact number of girls and women who have undergone FGM worldwide remains unknown at least 200 Million girls and women in 30 countries have been subjected to this practice. #200MIsNotJustaNumber  campaign seeks to bring attention to the world that this statistic is not just a number but women and girls who were born perfect but have been sentenced to a lifetime of misery by being mutilated. It represents dreams killed, emotional and physical suffering and a gross violation of basic human rights. It is our sisters, cousins, friends, girlfriends and people close to us who have been subjected to torture in the name of culture. One girl undergoing FGM is far too many, and 200 Million being cut and 3 Million more being at risk every year is a disaster. This campaign seeks to let governments, policy makers, law implementers, NGOs and everyone involved in the fight against FGM that Enough is Enough and No other girl should become an FGM Statistic! It is time to End FGM.

What can you say are some of the achievements you have made as an activist?

“The achievements are enormous but allow me to highlight a few. The online campaign #MenENDFGM which started in the year 2013 has influenced many from all parts of the world. When it started many activists were shy of talking about engaging men in this fight. Even some internationally renowned activists opposed me as they were mistaken about the whole concept. Currently men and boys’ engagement in the fight against FGM is the talk in town and I am happy to have contributed to this. There is a lot of feedback also from many who are bold enough to admit that I have influenced their projects and this is what keeps me writing and tweeting.

The #200MIsNotJustaNumber campaign also reached over 15 Million people and we had over 15 countries from all over the world taking part during the 16 Days of Activism Against GBV in 2017. This also influenced two similar campaigns in Nigeria.

Offline I have been able to sensitize tens of thousands of community members on different occasions in dialogues, chief Barazas, schools and churches. On radio and TV, I have been able to talk to millions of Kenyans having been on radio talk shows 8 times and thrice on 2 National TV stations.”

Any challenges you think are present in #FightingTheCut? What is slowing down the abandonment of FGM?

“One of the main challenges we have is using the same approach used by those who came before us, or the pioneers of the #EndFGM movement. Respect to them. I have on several occasions said it’s time to do a remix in this fight . Let’s come up with new strategies and approaches and we shall conquer. Also lack of political and religious good will has proven to be a big hindrance but all in all we are soldering on and we shall End FGM in this generation.”

Do you think the practice will end? What will it take?

“Yes, it will End. This will take every single individual realizing that ending FGM is their individual responsibility and the little you do goes a long way in ending this practice.  Also forging collaborations and realizing that no single individual, community, country, region or religion can end FGM alone.”

Your message to men, the entire community about their roles in ending FGM?

“No girl or woman exists in a vacuum; it is our individual responsibility to protect them from this harmful cultural practice.”

What are your plans moving forward, in your endeavor to end the practice?

“Engagement of more men and boys via more online and offline #EndFGM campaigns. Anyone wishing to collaborate can always get to me via info@tonymwebia.co.ke

Men, I hope you have been challenged to take up roles in #FightingTheCut

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Emmanuel Yegon is an all-round communicator who is passionate about photography, poetry, broadcast journalism and digital strategy. He has worked with top media brands in Kenya and garnered a wealth of experience. He has extensive knowledge of Social Media landscapes, networks and toolsets. He is committed to growth in the field of communication and best practice of journalism. He’s a 4th year student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in communication in Moi University.