Burying her head in the sand was something that never crossed Enid Muthoni 40 years ago as a girl in a sleepy village in Meru County.
She had to peel off the tag of impossibility to become a leading light in the advocacy against female genital mutilation and gender inequality.
From a simple girl at Munga Primary School to the prestigious Alliance Girls High School and later to Kenya School of Law, Muthoni now commands a high-profile career as a chief programs officer at the Centre for Reproductive Rights in Geneva, Switzerland.
‘When we grew up in a small village where necessities like healthcare are luxuries, your dreams become limited. At some point, my ambition was to build a timber house,’’ Muthoni said.
She has authored three books, Memoirs of a Gender Focal Point, Breaking at the Seams and The Little Book of Marriage and Divorce.
‘‘For now, I am both the student and the teacher, this is a typical class setting of young minds eagerly looking up to me to tell them the truth, to teach them gender and development,’’ she said.
- Michelle Obama shares personal stories of coping in new book
- Covid and passion for books brought me here
- Yvonne Adhiambo: My loyalty's only to the story
- Comic book characters dominate video games
Muthoni’s books are a reflection of social topics touching on gender.
In Breaking at the Seams, Muthoni dissects the narratives she was made to believe while growing up which turned out differently as she came of age.
‘‘In our community, we are endowed with food and experience but we are poor with material wealth and money. My mother would cultivate coffee and rear livestock, which our father would sell and keep the money,’’ she said.
‘‘I did grow up frustrated to watch empowered women going through painful experiences, navigating through a divorce or their spouses marrying a second or third wives,’’ she said.
Told in poetic and poetic prose, her stories are heartbreaking and life-affirming, brutal and gentle in turn.
She paints her life as a village girl, her family, traditions, relationships and love as well as conflict with both words and bullets where she dares ask, ‘‘does blood ever stop flowing in Africa?’’
Memoirs of a Gender Focal Point is a story of her journey to stardom that drives her to advocate for gender issues.
‘‘Women’s responsibility for child rearing contributes to women’s powerlessness, which in turn leaves women the less desirable of the breadwinner/child-raiser parental role,’’ she says.
She narrates how she encountered a woman in Pokot walking alone along the road when tensions were high during cattle rustling in 2006.
“Despite the insecurity, she left the safety of the camp and was rushing her son to the hospital, which was several kilometres away. She was with her husband,” she said.
“Unfortunately, the child died on her back before they got to the hospital. The man told his wife that they should go back home and leave the body on the road to be eaten by hyenas.”
‘‘The lady refused and continued with the journey to the clinic where the body would be safe. The husband went back home to take care of the cattle.”
Muthoni said this was a clear indication of how a woman’s status is lowly regarded in some communities.
‘‘Women are used as a face of poverty in our societies. Most scenes recorded in drought areas show children or women scrambling for food or water with flies filling their faces. I want to be the face of this situation and change the narrative,’’ Muthoni said.
In The Little Book of Marriage and Divorce, Muthoni wades into family relationships.
By striving for inherent bravery, Muthoni believes that a person’s life is never a mistake, and one must experience the sweetness and beauty of the flower and have attested to the prick of the thorn.
‘‘No one gets into a marriage with the intention of walking away. You remember one word, ‘till death do us apart.’ I came to realise that this was not meant to be a death sentence,’’ Muthoni said.
‘‘There is no scripture on how marriage will flourish or fail but what constitutes a successful marriage is experience. You know it’s impossible for me to show emotions in public, but I teared up just looking at the ring.”
She said many women put on a brave face to show all is well in their marriages.
“Then we had careers like my public life that required that I paint a picture of a good wife, mother and a great family as part of my façade to keep my career growth,’’ she adds.
“Even if you get yourself out, you are still part of a community that needs help to get to that point of freedom and release.”
Muthoni notes that with the frustrations women end up engaging in drug abuse just to ease their stress.
‘‘I was drowning myself in alcohol and keeping long hours in the office just to keep sane and in any case, the kids are no longer as young as they used to be.’’
She says her drive to advocate for gender injustice was informed by cases of her friends who went through Female Genital Mutilation because of culture.
“I was terrified and couldn’t imagine that my aunt was looking up to me being mutilated. Fortunately, the then President proclaimed girls should not be circumcised but kept in school. Luckily, my mother heeded the directive,’’ she said.
This gave her a head start in her push to end the cut and fight for gender inequality, which led her to the Federation of Women Lawyers (Fida).
“It is satisfying to help someone fight for the justice she truly deserves. I wanted to be the woman that helped put a stop to the problems,” she says.
Muthoni further says social judgment and discrimination by peers and teachers leads to many teenage girls’ abortion and contraceptive use.
“Education is important in teaching people reproductive rights at a tender age. The form of contraception we got when young was that we should stay away from the opposite sex and abstain, which is not effective,” Muthoni said.