In the quiet corners of marginalized communities, the stolen joys of womanhood, youth, dreams, and childhoods echo in the shadows. Promising futures denied, potentials unrealized, and the weight of responsibility thrust upon shoulders too young. Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) issues such as female genital mutilation (FGM), child, early and forced marriage and teenage pregnancies stand as formidable barriers, robbing children of the bright future they deserve. School-going girls becoming mothers and children looking after children. Responsibility begins to take hold at a young age, kissing education and most of their dreams goodbye. 

Dreams of becoming lawyers, doctors, teachers, pilots, and so on are shattered as a result of discriminatory attitudes, beliefs, norms, and ignorance driven by selfish ambition. These are some of the factors fueling the sexual reproductive issues in marginalised areas and female genital mutilation (FGM) practising communities.

Since the ban on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Kenya in 2011, remarkable strides have been made. According to the 2022 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, the FGM rate has dwindled to 15%, a significant drop from 21% in 2014. This positive trend can be attributed to strengthened legal frameworks, unwavering political commitment, and the innovative efforts of the youth in awareness creation and social mobilisation. Yet, the road to achieving Sustainable Development Goal targets by 2030 demands redoubled efforts, with a spotlight on involving the dynamic youth population of Kenya.

Kenya boasts a youthful population. According to the 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census, out of the total population of 47.6 million, 35.7 million individuals are aged 35 years and below, constituting a remarkable 75%. Among this group, approximately 13.7 million falls within the 18-34 age bracket, accounting for 29% of the entire population. Additionally, Kenya is home to 11.6 million adolescents (aged 10-19 years), representing 24.5% of the population. These statistics underscore the vulnerability of young people who often bear the brunt of harmful practices. The enactment of the Prohibition of FGM Act in 2011 laid the foundation, but deeply rooted cultural and religious beliefs persist, threatening the lives of millions globally.

Empowering youth is pivotal in this battle. In 2023 Men End FGM launched a comprehensive pilot program dubbed #SasaNiSisi Initiative, which aims to engage over 40,000 Kenyan youths in West Pokot and Samburu counties. This was made possible with the support from UNICEF Kenya, which enabled MEF to train the youths in policy advocacy, stakeholder engagement, and report writing. They have become a driving force behind #SasaNiSisi, igniting impactful activities from advocacy meetings with county executives to training youths in media usage for social change.

“The Y4C project has been instrumental in honing my leadership abilities & deepening my understanding of the intricate dynamics surrounding policy & budget decisions. I learned how to analyze policies and budgets, how to use media to amplify my voice, and how to write memos that influence decisions. I am now ready to shape a better future for myself and my community.” – Mercelina Chebet, Y4C Advocate

As part of the initiative to empower the Youth for Change (Y4Cs), MEF held an article-writing competition among the Y4C, to raise awareness of social injustices, such as FGM and other broader injustices prevalent in their communities. The Y4Cs shared many inspiring and powerful stories, including their personal experiences related to the harmful practices in their communities. challenges, and solutions. Ruth Namnyak and Mercilina Cherubia from Samburu and West Pokot counties respectively emerged winners of the storytelling competition and were awarded powerful smartphones to amplify their advocacy efforts on sexual and reproductive health care. Their stories serve as powerful reminders that through the art of storytelling, we can break down barriers, bridge gaps, and ultimately work towards a more equitable and compassionate world.

Key Achievements of the Initiative;

Through the #SasaNiSisi initiative, West Pokot and Samburu county leaderships committed to enacting county-specific anti-FGM policies as one of the ways of addressing harmful practices and sexual reproductive health(SRH) issues in the counties. In addition to that, there has been strengthened coordination by the  Gender Sector working group as well as the Members of County Assemblies from both Samburu and West Pokot counties.

90 young people from the two counties have been trained as alternative journalists to help in collecting and reporting cases of harmful practices as well as amplifying awareness among their peers on SRH, SGBV and VAC.

For the first time, the commemoration of International Youth Day was held in these two counties. All efforts to mark this day in previous years had failed. However, under this project, the day was commemorated with top government leadership gracing the occasion as Guests of honour. In West Pokot, The Directors of Gender from national and county governments graced the day whereas in Samburu, it was graced by the governor.

Interfaith leaders from West Pokot and Samburu have joined forces to combat FGM, child marriage, and teenage pregnancies. They have invited Y4C advocates to mentor the youth in their churches and encourage them to make informed decisions for their bodies.

The Y4Cs have also reached out to students from four vocational institutes in West Pokot and Samburu counties. Through music, dance, and discussions, they have raised awareness of the harms of FGM and child marriage, among other issues.

The road to achieving Sustainable Development Goal targets by 2030 demands redoubled efforts, with a spotlight on involving the dynamic youth population of Kenya. As we reflect on these achievements, the journey is far from over. Your support can be the catalyst for lasting change. Join us in amplifying the voices of the marginalized, empowering youth, and building a nation free from harmful practices. Together, through #SasaNiSisi, we can shape a more compassionate and equitable world, one triumph and transformation at a time.

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