Nkatha* tearfully narrates how her grandmother and aunt forced her to undergo the painful ‘cut’ of FGM at the age of 9 to fulfil a cultural expectation. Nkatha’s mother remained silent to avoid being labelled a rebel and a traitor for going against the accepted norm.
“The pain still stings, like it was just yesterday,” the 16 year-old says.
FGM is regarded as a transition into womanhood in Nkatha’s community. Once a girl is cut, she becomes adult and can enter into early marriage. Nkatha, however, defied tradition and insisted on an education. She is now in class 7 and hopes to become a doctor someday.
She campaigns with Plan International to stop FGM and allow girls the opportunity to achieve their dreams.
“FGM is a violation of the rights of the girls it’s forced upon,” says Tom Okeyo, Programme Manager Plan Kenya Tharaka Nithi Programme Unit. “At 9, Nkatha was too young to give informed consent and to understand what she was being forced to agree to.”
FGM is illegal in Kenya, but the practice is still widespread among many communities, who practice it very secretively.
Okeyo says social stigma is rampant, especially within the school environment, on girls who have not been cut, and also at home on married women who have not undergone FGM. Many girls and women thus agree to be cut to attain social acceptance.
To accelerate efforts in the fight against FGM, Plan International is focusing its FGM interventions on building life skills that empower girls to make informed decisions.
Other interventions include partnering with cultural leaders, who are the custodians of tradition and powerful agents of change, to seek their support in changing community beliefs and attitudes toward FGM. Additionally, the project is actively engaging the media in advocacy, knowledge sharing around FGM and calls for action to end the practice.