Kajiado County and the Network of Youth in Action (NOYA)
This case study takes us to Kajiado County, south-east of Nairobi, Kenya, on the border with Tanzania. Herds of cattle roam the beautiful, rolling grasslands, dotted with volcanic hills. One of the main ethnic groups in the area is the Maasai. Although almost 80% of women and girls in the Maasai community have undergone FGM , visible change is now taking place at multiple levels. Girls tend to undergo FGM after the age of ten years, and traditionally, Maasai Moran strongly believe that FGM is an important practice that keeps women chaste. Girls and women in the community claim that men are the greatest promoters of FGM, since they refuse to marry women who are uncut. Community advocacy by the Morans, in collaboration with women, is therefore an important step in the FGM abandonment process in these communities.
It is within this context that Network of Youth in Action (NOYA) works. NOYA is a youth-led, youth-serving community-based organisation, and a member of the Youth Anti-FGM Network Kenya, launched in August 2016. The Network members have received training from The Girl Generation to support them to sensitively and effectively communicate about ending FGM in their communities. NOYA works with youths both in and out of school, and also involves men in the campaign to end FGM in Loitokitok town, Kajiado County. They focus on working with young Maasai men, also known as Morans, as champions of change in ending FGM. NOYA are building on years of community sensitisation on FGM by various organisations, including the Kajiado County Children Stakeholders Network (KACCSNET). NOYA is also a grantee of The Girl Generation’s End FGM Small Grants programme.
Dialogue and Collective Action for Change
NOYA’s End FGM project took a social change communications approach. In other words, they encouraged community dialogue and collective action to work towards social change. This approach encourages communities to raise problems and define solutions themselves, without feeling coerced or judged. This is particularly important for sensitive issues such as FGM.
The first step in this project was to organise a series of community-led focus group discussions (FGDs). These can be very helpful in creating a space for open and reflective dialogue, including intercultural dialogue that investigates cultural variations within and between communities, as well as opening up discussion about cultural change. Through these discussions with men, they gained insights into men’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours relating to FGM, as well as their ideas about FGM prevention and abandonment.
The men felt that FGM is a social obligation, which they felt is the main reason for continued support for it. Men also acknowledged that lack of dialogue between men and women was a key barrier to abandonment. The discussions also revealed shifting attitudes towards FGM, and a growing wish to abandon this practice, because of the physical and psychosexual complications for both women and men.
NOYA then sought to make this support for abandonment more visible, and to construct a new narrative that FGM is not a cultural obligation. On the 6th of February 2017, the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM, NOYA organised a 10km End FGM Moran Walk. It started at Rombo Market and culminated with a celebration in a manyatta (traditional Maasai home) in Loitoktok. The walk provided a platform to promote community dialogue, and address concerns raised during the FGDs.
‘’As a Survivor of FGM, I support efforts to involve the Morans in the end FGM campaign. Morans are an integral part of the Maasai community. If we want to end FGM in our community in one generation, then involvement of Morans is crucial. My happiest moment was walking together with Maasai Morans for over 10kms sharing about the effects of FGM and why we should end it. We walked from Entarara to Rombo, the Morans were singing so people could hear and get the messages clearly’’
- Alice Masinte, NOYA
A collective call for change
Over 150 Morans (aged approximately 18 – 35) took part in the walk. Publicly standing up as community champions in the end FGM campaign, they pledged to stop FGM, and to protect young girls. Being the latest age-group ready for marriage, they will play a great role in determining the way forward for their community and the next generation of girls. The men encouraged the wider community to end FGM, and said they would not shy away from marrying girls who are uncut. They also noted that they would still marry and respect those who have already been cut, as they did not want to create stigma for such girls.
The day’s events also included the wider population and local leadership, such the area Chief, leaders of the nyumba kumi (community policing officials) initiative, the Assistant County Commissioner, Anti-FGM board staff, nurses, Children Officers, Police Officers and community members. The Chief Moran, who heads more than 6,000 Morans in the region, delivered a speech which sent a strong and clear message: that all Morans should desist from refusing to marry uncut girls, and for all Morans to support the end FGM movement in Kajiado County. In addition, one reformed cutter vowed to down tools and protect girls from FGM.
‘’I have circumcised so many girls, some of whom are my grandchildren. I used to do this because it was a cultural requirement with good intentions, only to come and realise that it has more harm than good on our girls. Most of the girls I circumcised never went back to school and they all got married. Some have had serious complications during birth and some continue to experience trauma and other psychological effects. Today, I declare and vow never to cut any girl, I vow never to let any girl experience circumcision. I ask all stakeholders to invest in protecting the girl child by educating women and men on the effects of FGM”
- Mary Naeku
Abandonment of FGM is a complex process and takes sustained effort. Although visible expressions of change may occur rapidly – such as in this project - the processes leading to this collective action took time. Changes in attitudes and intentions may not translate directly to behaviour change – therefore follow-up and ongoing attention to the issue of FGM will be required. However, when hundreds of men stand up to end FGM, it is worth amplifying, to inspire others who might be afraid to speak out. Young people are the next generation. NOYA’s project has shown how young people have the ability to question the harmful social norms that continue to subjugate girls, women, men and boys – and to call for change.
- As FGM is a manifestation of gender inequality, the empowerment of women is of key importance to end FGM. However, men also have a critical role to play. Involvement and engagement of young men in particular is key, since they are often more open to change, and can themselves be important change agents
- With large amounts of social capital and commitment, but with relatively few financial resources, social change towards ending FGM can be made highly visible through collective action
- Concerted efforts from all actors including grassroots community-based organisations, traditional leadership, young people and others are required in the movement to end FGM
- Training in social change communications can support community based organisations to deliver context-specific, sensitive interventions to end FGM.
- Interventions that include education, dialogue and debate can build consensus and co-ordination for collective action to end FGM at societal level.