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Mother of four fights against FGM

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes. The practice violates a person's rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.

According to the Kenyan constitution Act 32 Part IV, it is stated that FGM is an offence punishable by law. It further goes to stipulate protection to women and girls by providing support services, sensitizing Kenyans on the dangers and adverse effects. This is implemented through the Anti-FGM board, ActionAid Kenya’s long standing partner.

 Hawa Mathobe , 32 year old Kenyan Somali and mother of four daughters recalls her experience during  the controversial rite to womanhood . Mathobe, a victim of FGM, was married off at the age of 12. Scenes of horrific procedures done on her and two of her daughters, the rebellious nature of her community to those against the age-old tradition and her tough attempts to save the girl child from the risky culture appeared to be fighting for space in her head. Hawa Mathobe is an example of a woman wedging her way out of cultural bondage that has harmed most of her ancestors and a larger percentage of the community that still holds onto the practice.

 “It is torture…its crime. Female circumcision is nowhere close to traditions, culture or even religion,” Mathobe says.

 She hails from Marable location in Fafi sub-county 50 Kilometers from Garissa County where majority of her community believes the ‘cut’ is the most crucial step to womanhood. Hawa is a member of the Child Protection Network that has deep roots in five locations in the county.

 Seven years ago, her first and second born daughters, Mariam now 20 years old and Fausa 18, faced the ‘cut’. However she cannot comprehend why she allowed them to be brutally amputated. 

 Mathobe recalls when Mariam and Fausa were subjected to the cut, that entails removal of the clitoral hood the inner labia and outer labia leading to closure of the vulva-a small hole is therefore left for the passage of urine and menstrual fluid.

 The procedure is usually done with traditional surgeons with the risk of infection, difficulties in childbirth and in most cases lack of sexual pleasure.

 Mariam and Fausa’s hands were tied together and denied food for about 20 days-this time they were only allowed to take porridge, ugali and milk though in piecemeal-oil food was also prohibited.In addition they were forced to sleep down and never allowed to take a shower.

 “It is believed that a lot of fluid could result in release of too much urine that would not allow the wound to heal faster…the sticky herb in her sexual organ could also come out,” explains Mathobe.

Her daughters she says are however suffering from menstrual pain with difficulties in passing out the menstrual blood.

The two daughters have also overheard some girls in the neighborhood with whom they had undergone the ‘cut’ with but are now married and facing broken marriages-their husbands are   having difficulties of penetration during sexual intercourse.

 Mariam and Fausa now in High school are more educated on the dangers of FGM and have also vowed to join their mother in protecting their two siblings one aged 13 and in class seven while the last born is only five years old.

 Increased awareness in schools and homesteads of the largely pastoral community in north eastern Kenya, by ActionAid Kenya and partners have helped build resilience and empower more women against the culture.

 “My small daughters are now knowledgeable to a point they are comfortable and are not willing to take the cut,” said Mathobe.

 While the war against the horrid culture seem to be a win within her household, the community is not lending its huge arm to protect the rights of children, infact majority are still against those opposing the tradition and considers rebellious members as outcasts.

“We are considered lost and misleading the community. Its not an easy war, the community is still powerful but we are forging on,” she confers.

Over the last two years, female cutters and the community have been preying on her small daughters with intentions to butcher their genitalia but to no avail. She has managed to rescue them.

“I have been beaten up, my mobile phone confiscated and broken apart…community members have also threatened to take my life,” she recalls.

 Her rebellion has also seen her face-off with her husband who has been on her neck on why she was brewing trouble for the community. She recalls her husband taking her to the Area chief and reporting her for defying their culture.

However her tough stance is proving to have given her fresh strength backed by an anti-FGM bill passed in Kenya in 2011 that describes the act as a criminal offense. Mathobe is earning a new status in the community and could become a voice of reason for the rural community using the power of her tongue and little knowledge she has gained over the years. Government offices around the area have begun recognizing her efforts and is of late being used to independently conduct investigations on child molestation. The husband has also joined the fight against female circumcision.

 Poor mobile network in the region is also affecting follow up on cases of abuse, with most potential survivors lacking appropriate centers for counseling before they are converted into the modern world. She is proud that teachers, government officials in the area, religious leaders and some elders are now aware of the harmful effects of female circumcision and the fact that more and more girls are opening up to report cases of abuse.