“I bore witness to the cruel cutting of my friends. The excruciating, inhumane pain and suffering inflicted during this ritual compelled me to escape from my grandmother’s home.”
Faith Limanyang was only 13 years old when the elderly women of her community in West Pokot County, famously known as the “land of hidden treasures”, performed a centuries-old ritual on her friends, severing their clitorises and burying them. Despite nearly a century of efforts to eliminate it, female genital mutilation (FGM) remains remarkably entrenched.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 3 million girls are at risk of FGM annually. Born in Kamwino village, Mnagei ward, West Pokot County, Faith, the firstborn in her family of four siblings, had to flee, or she would be the next FGM survivor. “I knew there was no way I was going to wait and have my genitals cut The pain and suffering that I saw during this period forced me to flee home and seek refuge at my mother’s homestead.” Unfortunately, the outlawed practice persists in West Pokot County, as many young girls opt for FGM to avoid the deeply ingrained stigma associated with remaining uncut.
According to KDHS 2022, FGM prevalence in West Pokot County is at 44%. In addition, the county ranks second in teenage pregnancies at 36%. This underscores the imperative for County governments to play a crucial role in ending these harmful practices. They must develop policies providing the legal framework needed to expedite the eradication of FGM at the county level by establishing decentralized governance structures and cascading from the ward level to the county level.
“Rebelling against a practice that was being carried out by almost everyone then wasn’t easy. I had to find a way to influence my friends to stand with me. This is how I slowly became a campaigner at a very early age. When I went to high school, my cousin underwent the procedure, prompting me to do more to protect other girls from the same fate.” Nearly a decade later, Faith joined 19 other driven youth activists from West Pokot and Samburu counties for a budget and policy advocacy training in Nakuru County.
The training, organized by the Men End FGM Foundation (MEF) and funded by UNICEF Kenya, aimed to build their capacity to identify gaps in their county budgets and advocate for increased budgets and the formulation of anti-FGM policies. The goal was to accelerate the elimination of harmful practices, with a specific focus on FGM, teenage pregnancies, and child marriage in their home counties.
Youth for Change (Y4C) Advocates under the #SasaNiSisi initiative. “I admire such a space dedicated to youths, where we can freely and genuinely address the issues affecting us in our societies.” The training has been instrumental in Faith’s advocacy efforts. Through the project, along with the other nine Youth for Change advocates, they have travelled around West Pokot County engaging the community in dialogue to end FGM and other harmful practices.
Additionally, they have met with members of the West Pokot County assembly, fostering a deeper understanding among legislators and the executive about the importance of county-specific anti-FGM policies and the allocation of resources to implement these policies. It is through this initiative that legislatures from West Pokot County committed to enacting county-specific anti-FGM policies as a means of addressing harmful practices and sexual and reproductive health issues in the county.
“This project has provided girls, young women, and youths like myself with the platform, power, and skills to effect change in our communities,” says Faith Limayang, now a County Chief Gender Officer, hoping to inspire others to speak out and lead change, advocating for the abandonment of FGM.