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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Women weighed down by culture - Kenya

Garissa, November 16, 2009 By IRIN [...] WOMANKIND Kenya (WOKIKE), [a Kenya rooted NGO created] to provide leadership training to women, [...] set up a sanctuary for girls at risk of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). "Girls are often seen as an object for the pleasure of men," Al-Haji [one of WOKIKE's founders] said. In her community, FGM is a highly valued ritual, marking the transition from childhood to womanhood. At present, the centre is supporting 120 girls aged around six years old because they are at risk of FGM/C from age eight. The girls, most of whom have escaped FGM/C, are enrolled on the recommendation of the government children's department and the community. "When we started the campaign against FGM, the community turned against us; it was a taboo subject," Al-Haji explained. "The most difficult men to work with were the educated ones who see you [an educated woman] as a challenge." With time, WOKIKE received the support of local religious leaders, most of whom are Muslim. "[Now] the religious leaders are telling the community that FGM is not a religious obligation," she said. One success story has strengthened Al-Haji’s resolve to support disadvantaged women in northeastern Kenya. Hafsa, who has been supported by the centre for 14 years, is about to join the University of Nairobi to study pharmacy. "I was rescued from traditional practices like FGM and early marriage," Hafsa told IRIN, adding that she came to the centre from Ijara [a district south of Garissa] at four. "You are discriminated against either way by the community if you have not been circumcised and by friends in schools outside northeastern if you have been circumcised," Hafsa, who went to a high school in eastern Kenya, said. At least 32 percent of Kenyan women have undergone FGM/C, according to a report by the Population Council. Among communities such as the Somali, Abagusii, Kuria, Maasai and Samburu, more than 90 percent of women undergo it. [...]