The 39-year-old mother dropped out of school when she was 12 years old, having been married off after undergoing FGM. Susan lives in West Pokot, Kenya where an estimated 7 out of 10 girls undergo FGM. The harmful cultural practice is seen as a prerequisite for marriage. She now leads the KOMESI women's network who want to bring FGM to an end. They hope to ensure girls stay in school – a dream that Susan still hopes to fulfil for herself one day.
“One day I would like to finish my education. I dropped out of school and was married off at a tender age. So this is one of the other reasons that has motivated me to ensure young girls do not go through whatever I went through,” says Susan
FGM has been illegal in Kenya since 2011. Yet many parents still practise it because it means their daughters will fetch more cows as brideprice when they are married off. The KOMESI Women’s Network, formed in 2008, try to tackle this problem on many fronts.
When they first hear of girls who are at risk of FGM they try to dissuade parents by informing them it is illegal. They also contact village chiefs to assist them with parents who are adamant about ensuring their girls go through the cut. Members of the women’s network also travel to remote villages to raise awareness of the health risks of FGM, which includes excessive bleeding, obstructed labour and even death. They have managed to persuade women who were cutters to abandon the practice and join their anti-FGM campaign.
Courageous girls who run away from home when they are due to be cut also find refuge at the KOMESI Women’s Network. Recently, the members built a basic traditional structure for girls fleeing FGM to sleep in. Now their sights are set on building a fully functioning safe house for the girls.
"Having a safe house will help to reduce the number of FGM cases because the girls will be safe from their parents and the suitors who want to marry them. It will also be easier for them to access education. It will make the work of the women’s network lighter. There will be a place where the girls can take shelter before they go back to school or are reconciled with their parents." concludes Susan.
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