Every year on the 12th of August, the world comes together to celebrate International Youth Day. This year, the theme is ‘Youth Building Peace’.
As a resident of Northern Kenya and in particular Marsabit County, which on several occasions has been in the mainstream media for all the wrong reasons of ethnic conflict, allow me to enumerate the role of youth, specifically in Marsabit, towards peace building:
Peace Walk – The youth of Marsabit came together in December 2016 for a 5 km Peace Walk and made a statement that the youth are standing up for peace before, during and after elections.
Youth led peace forum and caravan – On several occasions, the youth of Marsabit County had peace dialogues among themselves, with youth from Moyale, Ethiopia and as well with Mandera County youth. In these forums the young people deliberate on the impact of conflict on community development, the triggers and drivers of conflict, and the role of youth and other stakeholders in conflict prevention.
Use of social media in peace building – Social media platforms have been used as tools for propagating hate speech and incitements to violence, therefore the youth of Marsabit have established peace networks and ambassadors to escalate messages of peace to generate a counter narrative.
Helping Hand – Following the severe drought that hit the county, the youth of Marsabit from all different ethnic groups came together and started an initiative dubbed “Helping Hand” which was geared towards mobilising resources for the families that were facing drought.
However, as we mark this day, it is important to note that peace is not only about violent conflict and the destruction of life and property. It is also about lack of tranquility, a feeling of insecurity and loneliness amongst your people. Lack of inner peace is as damaging as violent conflict since this is often caused by people we love and contributes to dreams being shattered. This lack of inner peace can also lead to violations of human rights and escalate the vicious circle of abject poverty. Here I am talking about Female Genital Mutilation, which is as we know the genesis of women’s disempowerment.
Where I come from, FGM signifies transition from childhood to womanhood. Sadly, girls are subjected to the cut when they are 8-14 years old. At this age, they aren’t in any position to make their own decisions and hardly understand the negative effects FGM will have on their lives. Besides the medical reasons why FGM is harmful, there are a number of social issues and community disempowerment that come with FGM:
FGM often results in early marriage and less education for girls. The moment that little girl is subjected to FGM, she is considered a woman and is ready to be married off in exchange for a few cows. In most cases the bridegroom is old enough to father the bride. This leads to child marriage which in turn contributes to school dropout.
FGM means the girl will become a mother before she is ready. Instead of enjoying her childhood and playing with the other children, the little girl will have to carry the huge responsibility of motherhood.
FGM makes a girl more vulnerable to domestic violence. Being a child in marriage, she will not be able to protect or defend herself against an abusive marriage or her children against an abusive father. She will grow to believe that women are subjects of men and that the violation of their rights is a normal way of life for women.
FGM contributes to the cycle of underdevelopment: A disempowered woman will not be in a position to empower her children and thus what she was subjected to is most likely what her daughters shall be subjected to. As such, the vicious cycle of under development and violation of women’s rights is sustained.
If FGM is stopped, we shall significantly reduce child marriage, school dropout, gender-based violence, women’s disempowerment and contribute to community development – not to mention save countless lives. As we celebrate International Youth Day, let all of us stand up for peace, as peace is the foundation for our prosperity.
I further call upon every one of us to place the end FGM agenda at the forefront of our development activities. It is our collective duty to protect our girls and women and allow them to enjoy their childhood in peace, pursue their schooling in peace, build their home in peace, and bring life in the delivery room in peace without complication. May peace prevail across the planet Earth.