Chesang is from West Pokot (Kenya). In a region where Female Genital Mutilation
(FGM) is a common practice, this young woman became a symbol of fight for the elimination
of FGM. In 2017, she received, at Buckingham Palace, a distinction for her work
near the communities and the women and girls at risk: Queen’s Young Leaders
Award, assigned by the queen of England. Today, she’s still an outstanding
voice for women’s rights and for the eradication of a practice that puts at
risk more than 3 million girls per year.
with an essential role in some communities either by social convention, belief
or femininity cultural ideals. Since the end of XX century, UN and UNICEF seek
to create policies intended to eliminate this practice. International Day of
Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation is one of those efforts to mark
the fight against a practice that is still legal in more than a dozen
Ending Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has been a long fight. How do you weight
the progress made since 2003, when UN sponsored the International Day of Zero
Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation?
It is true that the campaign on FGM has
been an uphill task but worthwhile. We have come from far and am proud to say
that I am among the first beneficiary of the first conversation on FGM. I had
attained the cutting age when the first conversation to challenge FGM had just
started. I can say that I narrowly escaped FGM and survived the consequences
that comes with it. Were it not for this campaign I would have been a victim
and this would be a different story altogether.
The progress has been slow but the fact
that there’s still progress is worth celebrating.
The truth is it hasn’t been
easy convincing communities to abandon their deeply rooted cultural practices
that they were born to. The fight has consumed more resources compared to the
impact created. There are several factors that are yet to be unearthed for FGM
to come to the face and center of attention. FGM is not a standalone practice,
there are several factors that need to be addressed for it to be slayed.
factors are the elephant in the room, FGM is one single problem, poverty is an
example, access to basic education is another. There’s still work to be done.
What's missing to be able to end this practice?
Female Genital Mutilation is a violation of human rights not just women and girls’
rights. The question is how many people realizes and accepts this truth, very few,
not even African leaders. In an African set up women are to be seen not heard.
Their opinions do not count and sadly they have also been socialized to believe
and even support this narrative.
It is women who cut, it is women who
stigmatize fellow women for not going through FGM. It is women who still
believe that challenging stereotype and gender disparities is against women’s,
laws. A woman’s place is not in the kitchen but anywhere they want to be.
What remains to be done is a wholesome
women and girls empowerment approach in all sectors. Women need to be educated,
women need to be politically, economically and socially empowered.
to have equal access to quality education. The government needs to ensure that
child protection policies are not only casted on paper but are practically
being implemented. I just really think the African leaders especially, because
Africa alone has the highest numbers of FGM. They need to get a little serious
about the issue and stop being ignorant of the facts.
You cofounded "Kepsteno Rotwo" (Abandon the Knife), a project that
intends to eradicate this practice and that is working closely with the
communities, sensitizing for the risks and problems, as well as creating a safe
space for these girls and women. How did you "awaken" to this issue
and how important
is this for those communities to spread the message and aware for the problems
caused by FGM?
I was motivated to do what I am doing
because of what I witnessed and continue to witness as a result of FGM. What I
witnessed being done on my cousin when I was only 11 changed my life. The
height of inhuman, indignity and disrespect for humans is on another level. I
still haven’t found the answers to some questions. I have always wondered how
the world is still not loud enough on the atrocities being meted on the girl
If FGM was happening to the opposite gender would it still be this
highly prevalent? These anger and realities on the ground continue to motivate
me to wake up every day and save even just one girl from this.
I am fighting a bottom up approach which is
tougher than any other approach. you are met and confronted by the realities
and numerous challenges on the ground. It’s one problem after the other. You
convince your people to let girls be girls and to stop cutting them, some
listen but then they don’t have the money to take the girls to school which is
the only alternative. Then the girls are desperate with no alternative and they
have no choice but to go back to the cut so that they can get married because
their lives have to go on.
Girls who are empowered through our constant
sensitization campaigns run away from home when they are faced with forced FGM
and then we have nowhere to keep them! I have to figure out where to put them
and in most cases they land in my house which has now become a temporary rescue
home. But then after that what next? Their lives must go on, they have to go to
school or do something with their lives. Where do I get the money to do that?
It’s a myriad of challenges.
All the same the approach is bearing fruits
slowly by slowly, only if we started paying attention to grassroots empowerment
we would end this faster than going round and round discussing FGM in
What's the most difficult in explaining to communities why this wrong?
With the communities there are a number of
things you are allowed and not allowed to say. That’s why whoever is doing this
must understand and respect the cultural dynamics. For instance, explaining to
my community that a woman has the right to sexual pleasure will be termed so
disrespectful and wrong. ‘Sex is not for pleasure but women are tools to be
used for procreation.’ We talk about other women’s rights but not sex.
Do you want to leave a message on this day?
The problem of FGM is bigger than we
imagine but manageable if we truly decide to invest in its eradication. It will
take some time but surely we can do better than the current crawling pace. The
patience and tolerance we are witnessing on FGM does not resonate with the
campaign dubbed zero tolerance to FGM.