By Mekuno Project CEO and Co-Founder, Margo Day
For many people, December is a time of joy.
It is a season of light, of family connection, and of celebrating new beginnings as we usher in the new year.
For me, December is a time I feel conflicted.
In the midst of the cheer and joy, I cannot help but think of the thousands of girls in Kenya for whom December is a time of devastation—a time when girls undergo female genital mutilation (FGM).
I think about their fear. I think about their pain. I think about the thousands of lost childhoods and crushed dreams.
And then I start to think about all that we need to do to end this assault on their human rights.
December in Kenya is the season of cutting. As exams end and schools around the country break for the holidays, young girls are taken by their families to the countryside or across the border to be cut. December, instead of being a time of celebration, is a time of fear.
Girls are forced to undergo the cut as a rite of passage into adulthood. A girl that is uncut is seen as a less desirable wife, a less ‘pure’ wife, and therefore will fetch a lower bride price, which, for the families, could be the difference between scraping by and starvation. Thus, the families marry them off, often before the age of 15, to a much older man, against their will.
This harmful traditional practice affects over 200 million girls and women worldwide, and involves the partial or complete removal of female genitalia. It has been shown to have severe medical consequences including hemorrhage, chronic infection, incontinence, cysts, childbirth complications, and even death. It also causes significant emotional trauma including depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
In Kenya, the rate of FGM currently stands at 21%. That means that for 1 in 5 girls, the reality of a life of suffering replaces the bright futures they had once dreamed of—and in some communities, as many as 9 in 10 girls undergo the cut.
No girl should have to give up on her dreams and be regarded as property. We have a responsibility to protect all girls from forms of gender-based violence such as FGM.
I firmly believe that we can end FGM within a generation if we address its root causes. By making sure girls stay in school, we can secure their access to education and a safe environment to decide their own destinies, instead of being forced into one. By working with village elders and other community leaders to replace FGM with alternative rites of passage, we can shift away from harmful traditional practices towards positive experiences. By not only partnering with community leaders and government officials, but also by focusing on giving girls opportunities and support beyond secondary school, we set the conditions for girls to thrive in futures they design.
This is why I founded Mekuno Project. This is why I have personally dedicated my life to this cause. I have seen the power of these holistic interventions in the field, and what can be done through targeted initiatives to end this practice in less than a generation.
Take a look at the data—change is already happening.
From 1990 to 2017, rates of FGM across Africa declined substantially:
The most dramatic change has been in East Africa, where rates of FGM went from 71% to 8% in just 11 years.
Our energies should no longer be focused on figuring out ‘what works’, but on scaling existing successful interventions so that no girl in Kenya grows up in fear of the cut.
If given the choice, children would choose to be children. But these girls, from birth, were never given that choice. Instead, they have been robbed of that childhood. Their dreams, their aspirations, their rights—all of these were pushed aside in favor of what is perceived to be their immediate and only value: as property to be sold.
But the value of girls goes far beyond that. If we invest in girls, they will grow up to be leaders, teachers, doctors, engineers, entrepreneurs, and mothers who will contribute greater value to their communities and our world than we can even imagine.
Every girl deserves the right to live a hope-filled future.