What you need to know:
- Somali Self-Help group of 25 women formed to agitate for girls’ rights, community engagement and economic empowerment of members.
- The group has in the last one year, crisscrossed the vast Isiolo County educating parents on the need to abandon FGM, monitor their children’s movement and protect them against sexual offences.
- Most of them run personal businesses, but undertake sensitization campaigns on Saturday immediately after their mandatory one-hour meeting.
When Somali Self-Help group of 25 women came together in June last year, they had three things in mind - agitating for girls’ rights, community engagement and economic empowerment of members.
The formation of the Isiolo-based group whose members hail from Bulapesa and Wabera wards on the outskirts of Isiolo town, was prompted by the surge in teen pregnancies, early marriages and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) that saw huge number of girls drop out of school.
Immediately after registering the group in August 2019, the women started a merry-go-round and have been contributing Sh1,200 each month out of which Sh200 goes to savings account.
Led by group Chairperson Fani Mohammed, the women have in the last one year crisscrossed the vast county educating parents on the need to abandon FGM, monitor their children’s movement and protect them against sexual offences.
The women cater for their normal activities of civic education and community initiatives including feeding the street family from their savings and personal contributions.
With most of them running personal businesses, the women undertake sensitization campaigns on Saturday immediately after their mandatory one-hour meeting.
They also provide sanitary pads to school girls from poor families to ensure they do not drop out of school and work with chiefs to return to school those who drop out for any reason.
The women boast of having had close to 20 men arrested and charged for sexual offences in the last eight months.
Following closure of schools in mid-March due to Covid-19 outbreak, parents have had an uphill task of assuming teachers’ role and providing some amenities that learners got from school.
Parents and caregivers have had to put in extra work to feed their children, who have been at home since March, leaving them with no one to take care of them. This has put the children at risk of being exposed to drug and substance abuse, early marriages and outdated practices.
Somali group is calling for robust sensitization to protect girls, especially from harmful practices.
Due to limited resources, they have only covered Shambani, LMD, Kambi Garba, Chechelesi and Slaughter areas in Isiolo North. The women use their savings to make detergents and masks which they distribute to vulnerable residents in these areas.
“We had to find a way to raise money to facilitate our movement as the economy has been badly hurt by the pandemic,” says Ms Fani noting that gender-based violence cases and FGM have been on the rise.
Unlike before when they were supplied with sanitary pads in school, the girls particularly those from humble families, have no regular supplies and could be easily lured into evil activities.
“There is need to focus on the girl child because if we do not, she will be married off,” says Ms Leila Abdi, a member.
With two members getting each Sh7,000 for merry-go-round every month, they are able to provide for their families and inject some money into their businesses.
Ms Milgo Ahmed, a member, sells second-hand clothes and produces local detergents, which are cheaper compared to sanitizers, from the merry-go-round income.
“I used to make Sh1,500 profit daily before Coronavirus outbreak but I am now struggling to make Sh500. The merry-go-round funds have boosted my stock,” says Ms Nasir Mohat, a shoe seller.
The women lament that the war on FGM was being derailed by parents who are unwilling to abandon the practice.
Research shows that most parents don’t report sexual offences committed against their daughters to avoid embarrassing their families. Some receive money from suspects for fear of losing cases in court due to poverty.
FGM has been linked to cases of teenage pregnancies and forced marriages with officials previously lamenting over growing number of girls dropping out of school.
Ms Fani says while many women fear exposing their husbands for marrying off their daughters at early age, the communal justice system known as Maslaha was a major impediment to the fight.
During a recent interview with the Nation, the women said their work has not been easy as they are sometimes threatened for exposing violations and even ridiculed.
To better their work, they intend to incorporate men and youths in dissemination of anti-FGM information on social media platforms.
With the group’s heightened campaign in Bulapesa, Wabera and Burat wards, most parents now secretly take their girls to Archers Post in Samburu East for the cut that costs at least Sh8,000.
The group also works with local administrators to report incidences to the police for action against perpetrators.
While decrying neglect by the county leadership, the women cite logistical challenges and financial constraints in undertaking their work, and appeal to other players to join in the fight.
“It is unfortunate that none of the leaders from the MCA, MPs and governor have assisted us yet they take credit for our success stories,” says Ms Leila.
They challenge the county first lady Ms Wato Kuti, Woman Representative Rehema Jaldesa and Senator Fatuma Dullo to assist them. With partnerships, the group aims at completely eliminating FGM in the county in the coming two years.
“We are also appealing for funding from NGOs,” said the group’s chair.