64-year-old, Chepotupolel a female genital mutilation (FGM) survivor and Reformed cutter from Endough ward in Tippet village, West Pokot County, Kenya, turns on a new chapter.
“Throughout my life, I was taught nothing but how to handle a knife that I used to circumcise girls and women. I used to practice circumcision on girls to earn a living. I could cut as many as 100 girls a day, “says Chepotupolel.
Regardless of the fact that Chepotupolel was cognizant of the effects of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) to girls and women, she was still adamant on abandoning the practice.
In communities where Female Genital Mutilation is not practiced, it is sometimes difficult for members to fathom why such an egregious violation of a girl’s bodily autonomy, integrity, and fundamental human rights, as well as gender discrimination against women and girls, exist. Nonetheless, 21% of women and girls aged 15-49 in Kenya have had some type of FGM. Thankfully, Kenya has made eradicating FGM a national priority, with an action plan in place to do so by next year 2022.
“Since I was born out of wedlock, I lived with my grandmother. My grandmother used to cut girls and women and taught me how to do it. We used to cut the girls together until I gained expertise, at which point I moved out of the house and began working alone,” Chepotupolel explained.
However, what transformed her life remains a mystery to her to this day. She went to church one Sunday morning as she normally did, but something unexpected happened because the pastor that day was a visitor, a woman. After the sermon, the lady addressed female genital mutilation and the harms it causes to women and girls. She conveyed the anti-FGM message to the congregation and prayed for them.
“Leaving the practice of cutting girls was a difficult decision to make, even if it was not my primary source of income,” Chepotupolel explained..
Turning Over a New Leaf
Chepotupolel renounced the practice following her attendance at several workshops held in their area. She attributes her transformation to her newfound faith and to the training and information they received from MenEndFGM’s partner World Vision Kenya about the harmful effects of female genital mutilation on women’s and girls’ health. Chepotupolel also met a pokot lady who was not circumcised but was prosperous; she had a large herd of livestock and was leading a comfortable life despite having avoided the harmful practice. This lady’s lifestyle prompted her to reform. The lady’s life bolstered her belief that being uncircumcised does not automatically equate to poverty or dishonor in the community.
“Not everything we inherit is a gift to be carried on; we gain more than we lose when we choose to move on and prune our trees to allow the blossoming of new leaves.”
Chepotupolel told us that her grandchildren will not be cut and that other members of her village will stop cutting and shading the blood of young and innocent girls. She began farming and raising livestock. Since then, her life has improved, and her cows provide enough milk to sustain her, which she sells to the community. She is grateful for the teachings she got from our community dialogue and sensitization training to abandon FGM and other harmful cultural practices.
Strengthening the child protection system, with a particular emphasis on accelerating the elimination of female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage.
In line with Sustainable Development Goal 5 and its target 5.3 for the elimination of all harmful cultural practices, Kenya’s Vision 2030, the National Policy on the Eradication of Female Genital Mutilation in Kenya 2019, the Prohibition of FGM Act 2011, the Anti-FGM Board Strategic Plan 2019-2024, Children Act 2001, and the presidential directive to end FGM by 2022, UNICEF is providing financial and technical assistance to MenEndFGM and their partners Pastoralist Child Foundation (PCF) and Umoja Development Organization (UDO).
This is to expedite the elimination of FGM, address negative social and gender norms, keep girls in school, educate boys and girls about their rights, and reach out to men, elders, and circumcisers in order to make a positive and lasting impact in Samburu and West Pokot Counties and empower women to speak out for their rights.
“Action delineate and define us!”
Let us unite and act together to accomplish the objective of a FGM-free Kenya as we commemorate #16Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women.
Winnie Chepyatich from Umoja Development Organization (UDO) contributed to this blog.