What you need to know:
- Linah Jebii Kilimo is an avid crusader against female circumcision and currently chairs Kenya’s Anti-FGM board
- The former Marakwet East MP opens up to Lifestyle about her life, family and the difficult fight to criminalise the practice
There is a strong belief in your community that women should not hold leadership positions. How did you overcome this barrier?
That is true. I overcame by using the servant approach and through the culturally accepted practice that women wait on men to serve especially at the dinner table. I wanted to serve them like a mother who serves the children and husband.
Is it true that political opponents criticised you for running for a parliamentary seat yet you were not circumcised?
Yes, that is because uncircumcised girls are considered to be like children. But I used this to my advantage.
Why is it so difficult to get rid of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)?
FGM is deeply entrenched in some of our communities. As such, we face many challenges in the fight but this does not stop me from fighting especially for those girls who don’t want to go through this rite of passage.
What would you say about comments such as those made by Kitutu Chache MP Jimmy Angwenyi in Parliament last week that he supported FGM and his constituents should be allowed to practise it?
It is very unfortunate that such a statement had to come from such a knowledgeable man from the Kisii community who should be at the forefront of the anti-FGM campaign. Does he do this to his daughters or he just wants other children to suffer while his are in school learning? We are going to be very keen on such people who are advocating something that is illegal.
In case he does that to his daughters, we are going to prosecute him for breaking the law.
I wonder if he really knows what he is calling cutting a “small part” since some girls bleed to death. Angwenyi should be very careful about what he says in public.
Why are Masaai women demanding that the government allow them to continue with the practice?
I take it very positively and at the same time I’m very happy because the women protesting are aware that the practice is illegal and that’s why they want the government to intervene.
This is just mass energy because some of the women who were protesting cannot do that to their daughters. It is a culture, yes, but the consequences are bad for the girls. The women are speaking out of ignorance. We have and we are still going to create awareness in the affected communities to enlighten them on the dangers of FGM.
Not long ago, it was believed that children as young as four living at the border areas of Marakwet and Pokot could differentiate between shots from G3 and AK-47 guns. How did this experience affect you growing up and later as a leader?
This is one of the reasons I sought to be the MP for Marakwet East — to look for a peaceful coexistence between the Pokot and Marakwet. My leadership was marked by peace negotiations and by using traditional ways to compensate victims.
Given your position in the society, you are a busy woman. When do you get time to be with your family?
When I’m at home, I try as much as possible to keep away from my phone so that I give my family their time. That’s why at times you call and I don’t pick up. But I always return all the calls after spending enough time with my family.
What is this one thing you like about the love of your life and how did the two of you meet?
He is very understanding, and never loses his temper. When we first met my husband was at the University of Nairobi and I was in secondary school (State House Girls High).
How many children do you have?
Do you find time to cook for your husband?
When I’m at home, I dedicate all my time to my husband and children. He loves traditional vegetables like suja and managu and millet ugali. This is the dish I learnt how to cook from my mother. My husband loves my cooking; that much I’m proud of.
You are a staunch Christian and you even carry a Bible in your bag. What is your favourite hymn?
Yes, I carry a Bible in my bag. My favourite hymn has the line, “There is not a friend like the lowly Jesus, no not one no not one....” Christ sticks closer than a brother.
Women find beauty in their hair by changing styles every week. Why did you choose to go natural?
I go the scarf way while in the rural areas so that I do not offend anyone, since some religions do not like women exposing their hair.
Why did you leave ODM?
I left ODM after being falsely accused of masterminding the death of a supporter.
What do you consider the most dramatic thing to have happened to you?
Being nominated to the Narc Cabinet in 2003 when I was first elected as MP of Marakwet East on a Democratic Party ticket.
What do you consider the most embarrassing moment in your life?
My marriage negotiations when they had to discuss my uncircumcised state claiming that the man who was going to marry me should not do it because I will not serve him as a woman unless I am circumcised. They considered me a child.
Who inspires you the most?
Jesus Christ my saviour.