Interview About FGM With Valentine Nkoyo

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As part of activities marking the celebration of Black History Month in the United Kingdom, a Maasai group from Kenya joined ranks with the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) awareness advocacy group in England to raise awareness on the hazards and complications this menace has caused in both the rural and urban setups in Kenya in particular but globally as a whole. Mojatu Magazine met up with them & had a very detailed chat with them. John and Daniel were led to our studios by the very renowned Anti-FGM campaigner, Valentine Nkoyo. Below is the interview they had with our editor:

The Maasai people have very rich culture and are often featured on Kenyan Tourism Industry; but has FGM been a threat to the people especially the girl child?

John: We have many things back home which we are working on, on our community, and part of the purpose of this trips to market Kenyan tourism but also, we have some projects we are doing back home in Kenya. Key among them is the project to fight against early marriages and FGM which is very common in our community, the Maasai. So we came to raise awareness and solicit support to fight against early marriages and FGM which is very, very common in Maasai land.

In as much as awareness is concerned, are the challenges not daunting?

Daniel: The purpose of our visit is to create awareness about things that are going on back in the village, like FGM which is really bad and also domestic violence. Well, at the moment our concentration is on FGM which is a really serious issue back home. When we came over here, we are very happy to see that there are people who are working on the same project here, my sister Valentine, has been one of those people who have been working on the same project here. Other than just showcasing Kenya in terms of tourism, we are also having that issue of FGM which is something that I think all of us should work together to eliminate forever.

What is your take on that Valentine?

Valentine: It is such a privilege to have such amazing gentlemen from my community back home. It just shows that there is hope and good things that are happening, in terms of changing the way the community sees harmful practices. John and Daniel have been doing an amazing work, I have been following them around, you know,we have been in different projects and events that we have done in London. It is such a big pleasure to have them here in Nottingham and to see men who are willing to stand up to these issues in our community back home and to see the society fights against it which is absolutely incredible. I’ve had a really deep conversations with them, and I remember that one of the conversations was really powerful.

When I asked them over in London that can you just be really open and honest about what is happening on the ground and to hear them say that it is so painful for them to see the suffering of girls and women who are going through the result of forced marriage, FGM and domestic violence. It was so real. It has made me feel like this fight, we will win at some point; might not happen today or tomorrow, but gradually we need to get more of the Johns and Daniels to working together to make and bring change.

Having them in Nottingham, the first city of zero tolerance to FGM, I could not be prouder than I am today. Also this is a part of the Black History month, so they will be performing at the Hyson Green Youth Club where we have a whole week of celebration of Black History month. I think it is really important that we talk about Black History month. For me it should not be a celebration of it for a month, black people should be celebrated always, it should be like every day. It has to start from us, black people, appreciating ourselves and celebrating our cultures but also looking inwards of issues that affect us.

You just talked about the point that FGM, early marriages and empowering women in education; this must be challenging and an uneasy crusade? 

Daniel: Yeah, it has not been an easy crusade, especially putting it to a point that the government is against it. But it is not formal, you know, there is no law written about FGM and stuff like that. So it is something that the government just says it is illegal, but down at the ground things are still happening.

We have even people like our chiefs and some elders that still practice that, you know, they still take the girls through FGM and it is something that we have to bring about lots of awareness, about community involvement and especially our leaders who are the core value of the community.

Currently, church leaders who are recognised and respected very much within the community, are being challenged to speak up against the practice because they need to tackle things that are affecting the community. They also need to come and create awareness about the future of the community because by having FGM continued within the culture of silence, somehow shows that they support it.

They should be the first people who have to come forward and say this has to stop. We should look like a package, you know the government, the church leaders, the elders in the community, we should be the people who should be in the forefront to fight against it, because people should know how serious it is.

The Maasais are created in a way to respect the leaders very much, so if the leaders and elders do not talk then it would seem as if it is OK. So that’s where we are having the problem, we are having the challenge, we really need to first of all work with the leaders and the people on the top. When we work with them, then breaking that myth on the ground, we will be easier.

John: Daniel mentioned a good point that we have to have leaders who are supporting us to fight, this is something very needed. Before we came, we experienced that there was a young girl who died in our community because she had been taken through the process and had been forced to marry to an old man. So it is very painful as she died from FGM practice. So when we got this opportunity to come here, we wanted to tell the world to support us because we are really suffering in our villages back home. The participation of the media would be crucial in the awareness campaign

Daniel: We need strong media campaign back at the villages. The media out there has not gone really deep into the community and we are encouraging them to join us at community level forsensitisation and advocacy. With their involvement, a lot of things can change. Because the people that we are targeting at the moment, are the young generation, these are the people that we need to change their mindset and we want them to see how harmful this thing can be (FGM).

We have to see that change has been effected in the younger ones and even in the old ladies because they will say that ‘If I was circumcised and not dead, then why not my daughter or grand-daughter?

So we are having that challenge that the ladies themselves telling us that this is not a man’s job, this is a lady’s job, so you should keep off, you see? This is another challenge that we are facing. What we are trying to do is just to humble ourselves because we cannot force them. We also need lots of positive training about FGM because we just don’t go to the village and tell a girl not to get it done, they would ask you why. I think this campaign requires concerted efforts

Valentine: Exactly! I remember even here in the UK when we started the campaign, we would try to engage men and they would be like, you know, “it is you women who do it to yourselves, go and sort it out”. So it is a big challenge because unless we see it as a problem and we create safe spaces where people can talk openly, it is going to be difficult to deal with this thing.

When we started our survivors club in Nottingham, I was really shocked at how much suffering there was where women do not even talk within themselves… remember, this is a taboo subject and people do not even talk about it. It is not just the subject that popped up during having a cup of tea or having your meal but it is a duty we have as women to actually call ourselves for a meeting, individually and say is this thing really good for us and good for our children? Once we get solutions for that and say that this is wrong, I am telling you we can end FGM within one generation!

Because if every woman who was going through it says that I am the last one and my daughter will not go through it and I will not allow anybody in my family to go through it, then we can end FGM within one generation. Another good point is getting the influential people within our society, taking their responsibilities and having that willingness to say that this is not good for our
people.

We have community leaders, we have faith leaders, we have the chiefs, we have women who are respected within the society, we need everybody on board. This is not something that should only be left for women to resolve or for men to resolve or for young people to resolve, it is a global issue that everybody should be involved in it.

Quite often you find people thinking it is just an African problem, FGM is a global issue, here in Nottingham we have been working with FGM survivors, some of them are young girls, sometimes people turn up with all sorts of issues, and some of them
even say ’I can’t even dare talk to my husband about some of the challenges that I am going through’, because it is a subject that is very personal so people do not find it easy to bring it up.

So we need more safe spaces for women and we need faith leaders, and I am really proud of the work that we have been doing here in Nottingham, working with community leaders and faith leaders, because they have so much influence and power and they are very respected in our African and Asia cultures.

More in our Mojatu Magazine. 

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