When she found new clothes and an umbrella placed in her mother’s bedroom, Scolastica Ghati knew her fate had been decided.
After a ‘rite of passage’ that included her going through Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), she and other girls were to be paraded through the village wearing the new clothes and carrying the umbrella as people showered them with gifts. The thought of going through this sent shivers down her spine.
Her father, at the time, was among Kuria elders, the “wazee wa kimila” who determined what happened in the community. He was a strong supporter of FGM. However, Ghati had other thoughts and was not ready to be subjected to a practice she hated with passion.
“With the help of my aunt who was very supportive, I sneaked out of our home and, for three years, went into hiding,” Ghati said. Her hiding place was Hope for Girls at the VISA rescue centre in Kuria East Sub-County.
But when she came back home, Ghati faced ridicule and rejection. She says the stigma was so intense that, at some point, she contemplated suicide. Eventually, the community became more receptive to her as time passed.
“After I came to Hope for Girls, I sent my aunt to my parents and my father was a bit hesitant and he accepted me back fully after three years,” she narrates.
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Today, Ghati who is now 29 years old, has dedicated her life to campaign against FGM and is mentoring other girls who have escaped the practice. “We also mentor them physiologically because we understand what trauma and depression can do,” she says.
Martha Maginga, 23, does not regret taking her stand against being cut despite being stigmatised by society. She says everyone was against it and no one was there to support her.
Maginga started going to Hope for Girls at Visa Academy in 2012 when she was in Class Six during the December holidays when it was the cutting season.
“I heard about it from a friend. The threat of forced FGM was very bad at our time. They would meet you at the road and carry you by force and take you for the cut,” she explains.
After escaping from home, a section of community members would go and knock on the gate of the rescue centre and say bitter words to the girls and their rescuers.
Maginga, who lived with her grandmother, says she stood firm in her decision as she knew that after going through FGM, suitors would come and marriage would be inevitable.
“That is not what I wanted for myself. I wanted to become a doctor. After seeing that I had decided to study, my grandmother joined me and supported me,” she narrates.
Maginga also got full support from Hope for Girls at VISA academy where they would pay her school fees up to the university level. Currently, she is a clinical officer doing her internship program at Coast General Referral and Teaching Hospital.
Lynet Awuor, whose parents live in Maeta village in Kuria East Sub-County, says the community around her wanted her to undergo circumcision.
“My father knew that once a child had been circumcised, their education would end there. My dad was not happy about it,” She says.
She tells of her father’s disappointment when her elder sister was cheated into undergoing FGM and was married off.
Just like Ghati and Maginga, Awuor was educated by the organisation through high school and university where she graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce accounting option last year.
She is currently doing her internship at Equity, Nanyuki Branch. The girls who are now youths are proud of their choices of not undergoing FGM and getting into early marriage.
They speak of their successes saying that the stigma and rejection they faced when young have now turned into blessings as the community now marvels at what they have now become.
Tobias Chacha, the director of the rescue centre says the girls were among the first to overcome all the challenges they faced within their communities.
“Some girls would be forcefully cut after the cutting period was over. And some would disappear without us knowing where they are. Those who persevered are now in university, some completed their university and are fending for themselves,” Chacha says, adding that they now have more than 100 girls.
Annemie Struyf, a partner who helps in supporting the rescue centre says girls need to be given the same rights as boys.
“The only possible way to give girls the same rights is through education,” she explains, adding that the Kenyan government needs to join hands with stakeholders in supporting the education of girls who escape the cut.
According to the Kenyan Demographic Health Survey 2022, 15 per cent of girls and women aged 15-49 in Kenya have undergone FGM.
This is despite universal recognition that Female Genital Mutilation has no medical value and violates fundamental human rights. Additionally, 574,121 girls and women risk undergoing FGM by 2030.
The survey indicates that teenage pregnancy in Migori stands at 22 per cent for girls aged 15 to 19, whereas early marriage that continues to plague the region stands at a staggering 23 per cent of all marriages in the county.
The national and county governments have been at the forefront of the fight against the retrogressive cultural practice.
CEC for Gender Rahab Robi says they are embracing concerted efforts to tackle FGM.