Macharia Peter Karanja is a human rights activist who believes we are all equal. Macharia's focus will be mobilising for a pan African movement for youth and by youth to galvanise our efforts to end FGM.
I am a youth activist, passionate about young people and wanting to support them to thrive in what they do. They are creative, energetic and innovative, and most often, they just need a push to help them in the right direction.
Tell us about yourself.
I’ve worked in social development for over twelve years, including managing gender and youth advocacy projects targeting vulnerable girls, women and the young people in the community.
I currently co-ordinate all FGM advocacy for the YWCA here in Kenya as part of an advocacy programme on sexual and reproductive health rights across YWCAs in 16 African countries. Being coordinator gives me a chance to speak on my role as a TGG End FGM ambassador, increase involvement in the movement, and articulate and raise the issues around FGM to multiple countries. The work I have been coordinating reaches over 100,000 people – so there is a huge potential to get these messages out.
How did you get involved in the movement to End FGM.
My story is that both being asked to coordinate FGM advocacy for the YWCA, and having a daughter, have made me passionately strive for this cause. When I was first asked to work on FGM, I took a good look at the stats, and I was taken aback – wow, this is a huge issue. If I would not let my daughter go through it, why should I let others? Since then, I’ve not looked back.
If I would not let my daughter go through it, why should I let others?
What are you good at?
As an advocacy officer and a counselling psychologist, I am good at creating forums and linkages to support the girl agenda. I am confident, outspoken, and very strong at articulating issues. I am good at using creative arts and social media to generate interest towards a worthy cause and bring young people along with me as I do it.
What would you say is your most significant contribution to ending FGM?
Many people find it hard to see a man as a champion for the girl agenda. I am always asked the question, why do it? As a ‘HeforShe’, I want to play my part in supporting girl’s equality and empowerment – and I want to use my position to bring young men and boys on board. Men make the decisions, they lead families and communities – and if I can help get them involved at a young age they will grow up making a huge difference to how girls are included and valued in their communities. Last year, I worked with a local rugby team, known as the Brumbies, who play in the national circuit, to come together for a car wash known as “carwash scrum”, hand out flyers and start conversations about FGM. It was a new way of getting them involved!
What are you most excited about at the moment?
I am excited when I get a chance to really meet community members and leaders and talk to them about FGM. I get to appreciate where they are coming from, and why they do what they do – and it is from that point that I have an opportunity to begin a conversation about change. I heard a story recently, about a young girl who stood up to her parents when they were about to take her for the cut. Her courage enabled her to tell them it was illegal, that she knew her rights – and if they continued, she would report them to the police. This is a courageous move – and shows that change is happening. This is what I am excited about.
I heard a story recently, about a young girl who stood up to her parents when they were about to take her for the cut. This is what I am excited about.
What are some of the challenges faced as a champion while working towards ending FGM?
Dealing with culture has its challenges – you need to approach cultural issues with of the amount of sensitivity it deserves. Some people are not ready to abandon their culture yet. One thing I am thinking about at the moment is how to bring the council of elders on board, as this is where change can really take place. Currently, they tell you what you want to hear but then not actually endorse change.
I also think that the involvement of young people in fighting for the abandonment of FGM is often tokenistic – and I want to work hard to get young people’s views and ideas represented at the decision-making level.