Born in a family of 6, in Waso ward, Sereolipi village, Samburu county, Philomena’s dreams of becoming a role model and a change agent in her community was threatened by her family expectations and the societal issues at play. She had seen the sufferings by her elder sisters as a result of being cut, and this fuelled her determination to escape Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), even if it meant abandonment by her father.
“When I began my secondary school studies in form one in 2017, I discovered that my parents wanted me to undergo the cut, something that I did not wish for.”
Her family, a stickler for the tradition, was adamant that their daughter had to undergo FGM, using the excuse that they were preserving the culture. An entrenched retrogressive culture which not only has serious consequences for the Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of girls and women but also a gross violation of human rights.
“I was determined to complete my secondary school studies, then attend university and pursue my aspirations. When my parents told me that they wanted me to be cut, I had a very difficult time, I felt powerless. I wanted to be able to make my own decisions on my body. Thankfully, while I was in primary school, I attended a PCF session on the effects of FGM, and I learned a lot from it. One thing we were taught was that if you want to avoid the cut, just tell them to give you time to finish your secondary education”
“Despite their skepticism, they agreed to my idea. While in school, I formed a group with 7 other classmates who were also at risk of FGM to advocate against the traditional harmful practices that have both immediate and long-term consequences for women and girls. We learned through PCF’s trainings that, despite being part of our culture, FGM violates our dignity and denies us the chance to thrive and achieve our goals.”
Regardless of the difficulties, Philomena is driven by her passion to empower her sisters and community members to #EndFGM. In her village, she has become a vocal advocate of girls. She is currently volunteering at a girls’ secondary school in Samburu County owing to lack of school fees, with the hopes of joining university to continue her education.
Despite her determination, the stigma and desertion she experienced from those who were expected to be on her side left her with unhealed wounds. “When the community learned of our attempts to oppose FGM, we were threatened by elders and various factions in the village. We also became the subject of scorn from the village’s young men. Unfortunately, our group began to come apart as a result of inability to withstand social pressure, leading to self-doubt among individual members, low self-esteem and a lack of support from close family members and community at large. Members started dropping out of school and were compelled into marriage with elderly men.”
“I promise you that I will become the role model and the change agent in our village. And #ZuiaUkeketaji is my signature slogan.”
Wilma Redenta from the Pastoralist Child Foundation (PCF) contributed to this blog.