A PASTOR in Kenya is making a stand against female genital mutilation (FGM) to protect his daughters from an “injustice that would rob them” of their human rights, education, and well-being, an anti-FGM campaigner in the country, Susan Krop, has reported.
The pastor, Emmanuel Longelech, and his three daughters, live in West Pokot, a region of Kenya where an estimated 72 per cent of girls undergo FGM — also known as female circumcision. There are no known health benefits of the procedure, which can cause severe long-term physical and mental damage.
Ms Krop campaigns against FGM in the region. She is chairwoman of the Kongelai Women’s Network, a group of about 100 members funded by ActionAid. The charity works with women and girls in the poorest parts of the world.
Mr Longelech told Ms Krop: “My girls will never, ever, undergo FGM. My daughters are my life, and I cannot do that. It is an injustice.” FGM was made illegal in Kenya in 2011, but campaigners say that it remains prevalent in many African countries because of its perception as a religious requirement, and prerequisite for marriage.
It is linked to income, Mr Longelech says, because “the moment a girl undergoes the whole process, a man will come and ask the parents, without the consent of the girl, ‘I want to marry your daughter,’ and [after agreeing a dowry, the parents] will call the girl and say ‘Now come, this is your husband. Follow him.’ And that business is done. If a girl has not been cut, the community will view her as outcast, unclean.”
Mr Longelech has been preaching against FGM to his 100-strong congregation for ten years, and now speaks at events organised by the Kongelai Women’s Network. But he has faced opposition, and received threats.
“The reaction was so terrible [at first]. I was told never again to share about the negative effects of FGM,” he said. “[People told me] ‘It is our tradition, and if you continue doing this, we will deal with you.’ You feel scared, and you ask yourself many questions.”
He continued: “It is hard for a father to speak out against FGM, because people say it is our culture and tradition, and we should not abandon our tradition. If a man tries to talk about FGM, they will say you are a man; you are not allowed to talk about it; these are women’s matters.”
But Mr Longelech continues to inform the community about the risks of FGM, which include blood loss, infection, psychological trauma, and, in the long-term, obstructed labour. In a society where childbearing is highly prized, it is an effective message, he says.
He has talked to his daughters about the risks, saying that it would end their education. “I told them: ‘I want you to pursue your education and to trust God to lead you. I want you, in the next 20 years, to drive your own car, to have a good house.’”
Diary of an FGM campaigner.
Susan Krop, aged 39, campaigns against FGM in West Pokot, Kenya, voluntarily, while earning a living as a farmer. She has five children, including two daughters whom she has not allowed to undergo FGM, she says, because she “regrets” that she was taken out of school, aged 12, to be cut and married soon afterwards.
“My day starts at 5 a.m.,” she says. “I get out of bed, and pray, then wash my face and light the fire to boil the water for washing the cooking utensils. I milk the cows, prepare a breakfast of tea and porridge for the family, and get my youngest children ready for school. After they have left, I clean inside and outside the home.”
Ms Krop sets off to the office at around 8 a.m. She is the chairwoman of the Kongelai Women’s Network, a group of about 100 members funded by the international charity ActionAid, which campaign against FGM and violence against women. “The office serves as a central co-ordinating hub, and we have contacts in each village who tip us off if a girl needs our help,” she says.
“We also discuss ways we can improve our incomes, start small businesses, or get training. Our office is a very basic structure built using timber, tin, and compacted mud; however, we are very proud of it, because it was built using money donated by local women in the villages.”
Ms Krop works with ActionAid to arrange FGM awareness-raising events; investigate suspected cases of FGM; or help girls thought to be at risk. “We discuss, come up with a strategy, and see how other members of the network can best approach the parents or villagers,” she says. “We also build links with the local police and village chiefs.”
Campaigning in the villages can involve walking in 30º, or more, heat for several hours, Ms Krop says. But for longer journeys she takes a motorbike taxi. A Kenyan government report suggests that 90 per cent of the roads in West Pokot are unpaved. “This makes it difficult for people to reach schools, hospitals, or take their produce to market,” she says.
“West Pokot culture is very friendly, and I am given a warm welcome. I talk openly, and ask the women to share their views with me. That is the best starting point for changing attitudes.”
In the afternoon, Ms Krop visits the local pastor, Emmanuel Longelech; the village chief, Samson Kasangei; and the police station to discuss ongoing cases. She also visits a boarding school — or safe house — funded by ActionAid.
“Abigail, who is 14, fled here after it was her turn to be cut in the village,” she says. “Her best friend had been cut the day before, and died from severe bleeding. Abigail was terrified she might die, too, and ran. A year later, she told her friend, Purity, about ActionAid, who had the courage to run away because she knew Abigail had done so, too.”
“Purity was my best friend,” Abigail said. “I didn’t want her to go through FGM. I wanted her to join me in school.”
Purity said: “I have many friends and neighbours who have undergone FGM; some of them have bled to death. When I was told that I wasn’t going to school any more, I decided to run for good. . . I’d rather risk death on the way than be subjected to FGM.”
Ms Krop remembers her childhood friend, who underwent FGM at the same time as her, and became “very sick and almost died” after her cut became infected. “Education is so important for a girl, and is still so important to me,” she says. “I still dream that one day I will finish my education that was cut short.”