I am on the road to Kajiado County. It’s a semi-arid region two hours from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, and home to the pastoralist Maasai community.
It’s an easy drive but I have an unsettling feeling in my heart as I look out of the window. Maybe it’s because I have left my two children at home for the next two days (the eldest is three years old and the youngest is one). Any mother would have that feeling when she is away from home.
Or maybe it’s the reason for my mission to Kajiado that is giving me such anxiety. I am taking a film crew to document conversations about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) among the Maasai community. We will talk to both proponents and opponents of FGM to get a deeper understanding of the practice, and how to advocate against it.
The thought of FGM weighs heavily on my mind. The intrusion, the pain, the violation. It is too much for me to comprehend, what about a 10 year old girl?
My mind wanders back to when I was ten years old. My childhood memories always bring a big smile to my face. Of happy days with lots of friends in school and home, laughing and playing. I was lucky, I had a childhood to remember.
In Kajiado, I meet Mary Oloiparuni. She is a mother of five children, four of whom are girls. Thoughts of her childhood remind her of the day she was circumcised. She frowns deeply when she talks about it.
“I was 13 years old when I was circumcised,” she narrates. “The ceremony was planned for a long time. When the day arrived they came for me at six in the morning.”
“I was forcefully held and placed on a bed. They cut me with a razor blade and there was a lot of blood. I really cried, it was a very bad day. Even today, I still suffer when I give birth and I always lose a lot of blood.”
Today, Mary defends the rights of her girls, and the rights of other girls in her community. She does not want them to go through the same horrific experience and to continue to suffer as she does today. She wants so much for her daughters. She wants them to go to school and to excel.
“I want to give my girls a chance to grow and discover themselves,” she says.
Mary is leading change by sharing her traumatic experience with other members of her community to also shape a better future for their children. At times she stands alone in her conviction but she is committed to ending the practice of FGM.
As Kenya joins the world in celebrating the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, we realize that we still have a long way to go. The national prevalence of FGM stands at 21 per cent. In communities such as the Kisii, Maasai and Somali it is at a shocking 78, 84 and 94 per cent respectively. Far too many girls are still being brutally violated in the name of tradition.
This must end.
UNICEF works within the UN Joint Programme on FGM to support the Government of Kenya in accelerating abandonment of FGM. There has been considerable progress in policy formulation and enacting legislation, but we still have to tackle age-old beliefs and traditions at community level that harm children and scar them for life.
As I leave Kajiado, I am filled with hope. Thanks to Mary and many others protecting children’s rights, I believe more girls will have a chance to enjoy their childhood and to reach their full potential.
Every child, boy or girl, deserves the right to their childhood.
Daisy Serem-Esinapwaka is a Communication Officer with UNICEF Kenya. She is a Kenyan national and lives in Nairobi with her husband and their two sons.