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Anti-FGM heroine calls for continuous campaign against FGM – Kenya News Agency

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At the tender age of 11 years, Winsum Jebiwott underwent the cut.

Jebiwott says she had gone to visit her uncle during the circumcision period and unfortunately found herself becoming a victim.

However, at the time, she never quite understood what had happened to her and continued with her life like any other girl who had undergone the same procedure.

At the age of 15, when she joined Form 1, Jebiwott suffered another setback in her life after she became another statistic in the rising cases of teenage mothers in the country.

The 22-year-old said she was forced to drop out of school to take care of her baby. Being the only girl in a family of five, she was lucky because her two older brothers were willing to take her back to school.

After rejoining school, she was narrating to one of her friends the excruciating pain she went through when she was giving birth to her baby.

“My friend asked me whether I had undergone through Female Genital Mutilation and when I answered in the affirmative, she told me that was the reason why I underwent through so much pain when giving birth,” she said.

It was then that she was able to relate what happened to her at the age of 11 and its repercussions during childbirth. “There and then I resolved to do what I can to save other girls from what I went through. I may not save many, but even if I save only one, I will have done my part in the fight against FGM,” she told KNA.

Jebiwott said her church, St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Embobut, provided her with the platform she needed. According to the young girl, she was a Sunday school teacher, and therefore every Sunday when schools close, apart from other church activities, she made it her duty to teach the young ones the dangers of FGM.

Her efforts were noticed by her parish priest, Fr. Amos Kimutai, who proposed to have her assist in the activities of an NGO started within the church when she did her Form 4.

“After sitting my Form 4 exams, my brothers told me to give them time to educate my younger siblings first, then they would take me to college.

Meanwhile, I continued assisting at the church where I go every Monday and Friday,” she said.

Last year was one year that all who have been fighting against FGM would like to forget. Hundreds of girls were forced to undergo the rite in Marakwet East, with young men hell-bent on ensuring that the girls were circumcised and attacking anyone fighting the vice.

In the process, a police officer was killed, and the priest, Fr. Kimutai, and a chief were attacked by gangs of youths. But even in that dark phase of the fight against FGM, a light shone as hundreds of girls, having been sensitised to the dangers of the outdated culture, ran away from home to escape the rite.

Despite the prevalence of FGM in the area, there is no rescue centre where girls can find refuge, despite calls by the County Gender Sector Working Group (CGSWG) for the establishment of one. Therefore,  for girls running away from FGM, their first stop is either in churches or with any individual who is known for campaigning against the rite, which is risky given the attacks that took place.

Initially, she received a total of 13 girls who went to the church, and when they didn’t find her, they all went to her home.

“When they didn’t find me at the church, they came home, and the following day another group of 20 girls followed. I had to accommodate them, and fortunately we had just harvested, so getting food was not a problem,” she said.

She accommodated them for two days, during which they slept on seats and maize drying mats. However, on the third day, more girls flocked to her home, and that was when she sought assistance from the area chief, who sought accommodation from the nearby AIC church, and a temporary rescue centre was established.

Jebiwott was overjoyed that her efforts had paid off, saying over 500 girls were saved from the cut. This gave her the impetus to continue with the fight against FGM, and with the support she gets from her church, she says she is making a difference in many girls lives.

She says that, for her, the fight against FGM is a continuous process that should be sustained all year.

She still continues to use the church, saying members are very supportive and will assist the girls from all over the parish whenever she asks for them.

Jebiwott said she was saddened by the events that took place in her home area, especially the killing of the police officer. She said they consulted with the priest, and through the provincial administration, they managed to trace the family of the officer.

“As part of our apology to the family, we decided to educate one of the daughters of the police officer through our NGO. “It’s the least we could do; while we cannot compensate for the loss of their dad, at least we can lessen their pain by assisting the young girl by paying her school fees,” she said.

Jebiwott called on all those dedicated to the fight against FGM to sustain the campaign, saying that while funds are scarce, the individual efforts of all concerned can go a long way in winning the war against FGM.

While FGM cases have been on the rise in the county, the in-charge Office of Public Prosecution, Judith Ayuma, told the CGSWG that for the three years she has been in the county, she has never prosecuted an FGM case, wondering why such cases are never reported.

The CGSWG said the lack of conviction of perpetrators of FGM has emboldened them, which indirectly abets the vice.

Given the risks involved, the establishment of a shelter in the area, which girls are aware of in advance and from which they can seek refuge against FGM, cannot be gainsaid.

According to a performance audit on prevention and response to Gender Based Violence, the Auditor General, Nancy Gathungu, called on the national government to work with the county governor to establish safe shelters for victims of GBV.

By Alice Wanjiru

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