Anti-FGM crusaders woo elders to fight vice

Gender Cheif Adminstrative Secretary(CAS)Ms Rachael Shebesh addressing Journalists at a hotel in Narok where she met with Maasai elders in a bid to fight FGM. Photo Ben Leshau

By Ben Leshau

After years of ignoring their input in the fight against Female
Genital Mutilation (FGM) among pastoral communities, the Ministry of Gender and the Anti-FGM board have finally reached out to elders in a bid to end the vice by 2022.

Gender Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS), Rachael Shebesh, who met Maasai elders in Narok  recently regretted that men had previously been ignored in anti-FGM crusades thus making the efforts counterproductive.

“It came to our attention as a Ministry that the most crucial partner in the fight against FGM are the elders. We have realized that instead of being punitive, it is better to be inclusive. We have spoken with girls, women, circumcisers, chiefs but we had not considered elders/cultural leaders,”said Ms. Shebesh.

She revealed that through the round-table dialogue with the
elders, what came out was that the age-set leaders expressed their interest to end the vice but they have never found a way of doing it.

The CAS said the government with the community elders were working on a formula to ensure harmful cultural practices are separated from the good ones.

The Anti-FGM Board Chairperson, Ms Agnes Pareiyo also admitted that they had approached the anti-FGM  war from top-bottom instead of vice-versa by failing to involve the cultural leaders.

“For a long time we have been dealing with women and girls by coming up with awareness, but we have come to realize the illegal practice was still on. It is like we started cutting the tree from top-bottom. Elders matter as they can agree with their age sets,” said Pareiyo.

She explained that no matter how much they sensitize the women on the dangers of the FGM and what the law says, the women especially in pastoral areas lacked confidence to face their men on what they were taught on FGM.

“We always train women and when they reach home from FGM workshops their husbands ask them where they have come from and most of the time they even fear to disclose and what follows is the man will order the girl be circumcised and married off, thus the need to involve the men in this war,” she noted.

Ms Pareiyo said they have found that men being the decision makers in families have the power of deterring the illegal practice against girls.

Ms Bernadette Loloju, the Anti-FGM Board CEO, on her part, said that with less than two years to the 2022 projected FGM end, they are reaching out to elders in pastoral areas such as Samburu, Kajiado, North Eastern who have expressed their support for the campaign.
She said the national prevalence has been on the decline in the last five years as one out of 10 girls is circumcised, adding that the 2022 projection was tenable.

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