What you need to know:
- When she graduated from Moi University three years ago, 25-year-old Lilian Chepchumba was determined to work with women and girls in her rural home to fight FGM.
- She founded Sauti Dada Africa, an organisation that seeks to eradicate FGM, child marriages and gender-based violence. It empowers girls and women to know their rights.
- The Moi University graduate escaped FGM while in Class Seven.
- Had it not been for some Catholic nuns who rescued and took her to a boarding school, she would have undergone the cut and married off at an early age.
When she graduated from Moi University three years ago, 25-year-old Lilian Chepchumba was determined to work with women and girls in her rural home to fight retrogressive cultural practices that were disadvantaging them.
In Tiaty Constituency where she hails from, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and early marriages have resulted to a spike in girls dropping out of school and discrimination of women in development issues.
Ms Chepchumba founded Sauti Dada Africa, an organisation that seeks to eradicate FGM, child marriages and gender-based violence. It empowers girls and women to know their rights.
The Moi University graduate escaped the age-old practice while in Class Seven. Had it not been for some Catholic nuns who rescued and took her to a boarding school, she would have undergone the cut and married off at an early age.
Sadly, six of her close friends were not lucky. They were circumcised and married off.
A few years later, two of them lost their lives due to excessive bleeding. And for this reason, she decided to work with girls facing the risk of being cut.
“What I witnessed is disheartening since these girls have to endure pain and are unable to continue with their studies. I felt that if nothing is done, then we are likely to lose many of our young girls,” says Ms Chepchumba.
In the Pokot community, for a woman to be considered ‘complete’, she has to undergo Type 3 FGM that often results to health-related complications on the victims.
She argues that unlike in the past, nowadays girls as young as nine years are being circumcised.
“Nowadays, they do this in secret to avoid being arrested,” she says.
In 2014, while at the university, she joined hands with other young women from her community to form ‘Rose flower group’ to organise motivational talks and trips for girls and boys on pursuing their education.
Three years later, they came up with the Sauti Dada foundation, where they organise community dialogues and use local radio to educate members of the community about the negative effects of FGM.
Since 2017, she has held a series of trainings on alternative rite of passage in Kolowa, Barpello, Kerelon and Chemolingot in the vast Tiaty Sub-county for more than 1,000 girls during the school holidays. During such events, she involves reformed female circumcisers and traditional birth attendants to create awareness to the community.
“Being the only girl in my ward who went up to university level, I wanted to encourage our girls to take education seriously. Residents are now seeing the importance of educating the girl-child. I am happy that more girls are now looking up to me, and that keeps me really motivated. I know that soon, many more girls will join colleges and universities to pursue their education,” says Ms Chepchumba.
Through her campaigns, she has also rescued at least five girls from forced marriages and circumcision.
Ms Chepchumba says her effort has enabled the girls join secondary school.
She is, however, disappointed at the turn of events owing to the Covid-19 pandemic that has reversed her gains. She notes that some of the challenges she encounters in her campaigns include lack of rescue centres for the girls.
“More girls are currently undergoing the cut or are married off early in secrecy, following the closure of schools and other institutions such as rescue centres. There is need for the government to come up with alternative spaces to keep the girls safe,” she says.
And besides lack of rescue centres, she observes that they encounter hostility, especially from the men who have clung onto some of the outlawed practices.
“It is difficult in most cases for a woman to address a crowd of men unless it is a special occasion. But we appreciate our chiefs and the local Assistant County Commissioner who ensures that we are protected,” says the girl-child rights champion.
Besides that, she also distributes sanitary towels to girls and engages them in menstrual hygiene and mentorship talks.
They also partner with local health facilities to empower women on reproductive health especially maternal health.
Ms Chepchumba explains that she draws her inspiration from her mother, the first female chief in the community, who has been at the forefront in advocating for the eradication of FGM and other retrogressive cultures in the community since the early 2000s.
Ms Chepchumba hopes to join hands with people of good-will religious leaders and non-governmental organisations to champion for the rights of the girls in her community.
“I know it is hard to change a culture but with constant work, it gradually changes,” Ms Chepchumba says.