Josephine was born 28 years ago. Her mother was uprooted from Form Two and forced to marry her late father as a second wife.
• She is a trained nurse, but runs a foundation she established aimed at rescuing young girls from early marriage and female genital mutilation.
• She comes from a community where a relative or non relative are allowed to engage a girl as young as six years.
• On engaging her, by putting a red beaded necklace round her neck, he is permitted to have sex with her.
To be safe, Josephine had to keep off sight and she also attended boarding secondary school. She attained a B- (minus) in Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education.
To her extended family, Josephine had received her wish. It was time to earn them their long time coming dowry. A wedding to a local tycoon was arranged.
“I categorically refused,” she says with a boisterous laugh, “people were shocked. Girls were inspired and many were encouraged to also refuse the arranged marriages.”
Soon after, Josephine got a scholarship to attend the Mathari Consolata Nursing School in Nyeri. After graduating, she chose to work with her community at Kipsing health facility, Samburu.
In 2008, with funding from USAID, Josephine started rescuing girls from Samburu, Laikipia and Isiolo.
Early this year, she registered her own organisation, the Samburu Girls Foundation.
The other day, you could hear a pin drop at Laico Regency Hotel when Josephine ran a power point slide about her work. There were pictures of girls, necks heavy with necklaces, rescued from the loins of male relatives, many times their age.
It was pictures of six teenage girls, each holding a baby that elicited oh! and Nos! at the conference. Josephine explained that the babies would have been killed, as they are ‘outcasts’ had they not been rescued.
“You see,” she said, “when a girl is beaded by a relative, he is allowed to have sex with her, but if the girl conceives, which happens most of the time as no form of contraception is used, the baby is unwanted and is seen as a curse. It brings shame to the family.”
This sort of a double standard tradition puts the girls at a great risk. When their mothers realise that their daughters are pregnant, they use crude abortion means. Sometimes the girls die. Josephine adds that other girls hide the pregnancy. However, on giving birth, if there is no forthcoming rescue, the babies are killed.
The peace conference, organised by Africa Health and Development International (AHADI) with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, was themed Youth and the Social and Economic Impact of Peaceful and Fair Elections. Speakers like Josephine were carefully drawn to represent the roles of youths in creating and maintaining peace in their communities.
And while Josephine gets celebrated elsewhere, (in 2011 she was recognised by the then US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger as an Unsung Heroine), elders in her community see her as a thorn in the cultural norms.