Political and religious leaders in Lamu county
have been urged to join hands and fight obstacles on the path of the girl child.
Major issues affecting girls include sexual abuse, demeaning cultural and religious beliefs, female genital mutilation, as well as early and forced marriage.
Activists and stakeholders in the education sector have thrown their weight behind pro-girl child campaigns. They say massive support and awareness are required to put the Lamu girl child at par with her counterparts in the rest of the country.
Organisations such as World Vision and Muslims for Human Rights (Muhuri) agree that girls in the county have been treated unfairly. They agree that it is high time to balance the scales and give them an equal shot at life just like their peers.
Lamu’s World Vision representative Sheikh Maro says the community is still partly entrenched in cultural beliefs that are mostly unfavourable to girls, which keep them from flourishing.
“The issue with cultural beliefs is still a challenge. The common belief that girls are never meant to go far in education means that many people don’t really want to invest and educate their girls in the misleading belief that, once successful, they only get to benefit whoever marries them. We must move away from such and give all our kids an equal chance at education and any other [opportunity]."
Maro believes that apart from the legal system, society can choose to create an atmosphere that protects young girls.
“This can be achieved if and when society decides not to tolerate any form of abuse against the girl child. You don’t have to wait for the law but you can teach each other the importance of having a safe environment for your daughters to live, learn and succeed so that the law just becomes a subsidy for an already morally upright community."
Lamu’s Muhuri field officer Ali Habib says fairness and equality can be achieved if the community embraces a more liberal view of life and success.
“All children need equal treatment and favours. We however live in a society where a man would rather invest immensely on the boys than girls. That's what we should strive to educate the masses about. Girls are equally in need of these opportunities."
He says it is unfair that society has connived, through many misleading cultural practices, to pull down the girl child.
“But there is hope. Through awareness and pro-girl child campaigns we will get there and give our girls the platform to shine. It must happen because we live in changing times where challenges such as poverty and the likes know no gender. Therefore everyone must be armed with a good education and the necessary skills required to manoeuvre and prosper,” Ali says.
Lamu county commander Muchangi Kioi says the county administration will not spare anyone who hurts girls.
Kioi says the administration is doing all it can to support education in Lamu, especially that of the girl child, in line with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four agenda.
“We are talking of defilement, forced marriage, FGM and so on. We find them, we shall prosecute them. Any member of society who shall be found culpable of as much as condoning such vices shall also be held to account. People must speak up when all is not right. Silence means you support whatever evil is happening,” he says.
Lamu Woman Representative Ruweida Obbo, a champion of girl's rights, believes that any society that degrades girls degrades itself since a prosperous society gives equal opportunities to all.
“[Show me] any country or region where girls or women were abused or denied basic rights that has flourished? There is none. For any place to flourish, the floor must be open to all."
Obbo rebukes practices such as FGM and early marriage, which deny young girls the opportunity to realise their worth and instead waste away.
The woman rep, who is a qualified pilot by profession, has personally spearheaded pro-girl child campaigns. She moves from one area to another encouraging parents and society to give girls the same opportunity as boys.
“I am very grateful that I made it this far in life. My parents believed in me and sent me to school up until I graduated as a pilot. That's the same kind of faith I want to inculcate in those who feel sending a girl to school is a waste. We must purpose to change and live,” she says.