CHANGING MINDSETS

FGM survivor leads war against the cut

Chemoyo Lopuonyang’s case typifies the plight of scores of survivors who carry the pain and trauma of FGM with them for a lifetime. Her experience has turned her into an anti-FGM campaigner

In Summary

• Survivors are best placed to understand the context and help their peers.

• Through UNFPA, they receive training on how to raise awareness on the negative consequences of child marriage and FGM

Chemoyo Lopuonyang during the interview
Chemoyo Lopuonyang during the interview
Image: FAITH MUIRURI

Chemoyo Lopuonyang knows all too well the negative consequences of Female Genital Mutilation.

She was barely 14 years old when she was circumcised and married off to a 65-year-old man in Kapunyany, Baringo county, as the third wife.

Trouble started at the beginning of their marriage; Lopuonyang’s marriage could not be consummated until she was defibrillated.

 

And soon after, she was diagnosed with obstetric fistula, a condition that results from prolonged labour. “The long pain began during my first pregnancy. I had complications during labour and I was not able to get help on time. I had a stillbirth,” she adds during an interview at Kapunyany Primary, which also shelters FGM survivors.

For years, she had to endure shame. “Urine used to pass without a break, resulting in a bad smell,’’ says Lopuonyang, now 40, while trying to hide the evident shame and pain.

Lopuonyang’s case typifies the plight of scores of survivors who carry the pain and trauma of FGM with them for a lifetime.

 

AWARENESS CREATION

Now, the mother of six would wish to forget the desperate experiences she went through when giving birth and focus on creating awareness on the negative effects of FGM.

Strengthened by her own resolve, Lopuonyang has been at forefront of rescuing girls who are victims of FGM and early marriages. “I use my networks in the community to rescue the vulnerable girls. Most of these girls are currently being housed at Kapunyany Primary Rescue Centre, where they can continue with their education.”

 

Lopuonyang believes FGM as a practice must end, and the campaign against it must be led by survivors and individuals from the impacted communities.

“I feel that no other woman should experience what I went through, and that’s why I have joined the anti-FGM campaign.”

Today, Lopuonyang, who has two daughters, has become an avid crusader against FGM. “I do not want my daughters to go through the same pain. I also want to save scores of girls out there who are just like my daughters and no one is speaking up for them.”

With support from UNFPA, she has received training on how to raise awareness on the negative consequences of child marriage and FGM.

 

COMMUNITY DIALOGUE

Lopuonyang called for intensifying of awareness campaigns and education of people on the effects of FGM, which include haemorrhage, fistula and psychological problems.

She actively participates in community dialogues organised by World Vision. These talks are open to the community to improve awareness levels on available platforms for supporting survivors.

“Working within the community gives me insights and access to spaces and conversations where I can effectively reshape narratives and find solutions to end FGM.”

Leah Lorien, who is a community mobiliser with World Vision at Lokis Area Development Programme, says Lopuonyang is one of the peer educators.

“As a strategy, we have been using the community change agents to accelerate the abandonment of the retrogressive practices,” she said.

“We believe anti-FGM responses must be driven by women and girls who have been affected by the practice. This group is best placed to understand their own contexts and can help find ways to keep themselves and their peers safe. It also means, wherever possible, focusing on safe access to quality education for girls.”

Lorien says World Vision has also been working with reformed circumcisers through interactive radio programmes to save girls and women from the outlawed harmful practice.

“We have also rolled out an initiative in Tikii and Kaisagat, where reformed circumcisers are introduced to alternative livelihoods to help them abandon the FGM practice.  

 

ERADICATED BY 2022?

Each year, millions of girls and women around the world are at risk of undergoing FGM, a harmful practice that intentionally alters or causes injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

While the customs and traditions that perpetuate FGM vary from community to community, the procedure is generally carried out sometime between infancy and age 15, and it has serious socio-economic, physical, emotional, sexual and health consequences, including death.

FGM causes severe bleeding and health issues, including cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth, with increased risk of newborn deaths.

In Kenya, FGM is prevalent in many communities, as indicated by KDHS 2014. The study found that 11 per cent of women aged 15-19 are circumcised, compared to more than 20 per cent among those over age 30. More than 40 per cent of women aged 45-49 are circumcised.

Rural women (26 per cent) are more likely to have been circumcised compared to their urban counterparts (14 per cent).

A recent study by the National Population Council and Development found that female genital mutilation remains a deeply rooted cultural practice that is widely supported. The reasons for sustaining the practice relate to religious obligation, family honour and virginity as a prerequisite for marriage.

The government has already established a special unit at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to handle FGM and other gender-based violence-related cases.

Other interventions put in place by the government through the Anti-FGM Board with support from UNFPA include: Development of Resource Handbook on FGM, Community Dialogues Guidelines on FGM, Alternative Rites of Passage Guidelines and Mapping of Anti FGM stakeholders countrywide.

These measures are expected to strengthen the implementation of activities geared towards abandonment of FGM by 2022, as outlined in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s commitment during the recently concluded Nairobi Summit on ICPD25.

And as actors race against time to beat the 2022 deadline, both legal and changes at the community level are critical to foster long-term behavioural change, which will put an end to the practice.