What you need to know:
- Jeremiah Kipainoi has tapped into Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and vernacular radio to campaign, rally for action and get support from stakeholders.
- In 2015, his work saw him win an award from the United Nation Population Fund following a feature story he did on the Maasai about the negative effects of FGM.
The mention of female genital mutilation (FGM) elicits a lot of interest for Jeremiah Kipainoi, a budding broadcast journalist from Kajiado County.
Mr Kipainoi has earned a name for himself as one of the leading anti-FGM activists in the country, fighting the vice in his community and beyond.
On this sunny morning, we met with him on the outskirts of Nairobi city for an interview. We want to know from him—why, being a man from a community considered as ‘conservative’, he has taken a bold step in fighting what his own culture has advocated for decades.
As we settle for the interview, Mr Kipainoi tells The Voice that he developed an interest in fighting FGM as a young boy growing up in a remote village in Kajiado County.
“While growing up, I attended many cutting ceremonies in the village. I could see the suffering and pain the girls underwent. I could tell that what was being done on them was bad. I vowed to be a change catalyst in my community when I grow up,” he says.
A trained journalist with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication (Electronic Media) from Daystar University, Mr Kipainoi divulges that he started his anti-FGM campaign while a student at the university.
He took advantage of the university’s radio station Shine FM to host a programme that educated locals in Kajiado and the neighbouring Narok County on the dangers of subjecting girls to the cut.
While still a student, he recalls organising a symposium in Narok, which brought together cutters, ex-cutters, traditional midwives, nurses, community health workers and FGM survivors.
Together with other anti-FGM activists, they took the participants through the dangers of subjecting girls and women to the outlawed cultural practice and what the law says about it.
His style of fighting the vice stands out. Mr Kipainoi, who currently works as a communications director with the Global Media Campaign to end FGM, uses social media platforms to fight the harmful cultural practice.
He uses Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and local vernacular radio stations to campaign, rally for action and get support from government and other stakeholders.
His campaign has led to the rescue of scores of girls at risk of undergoing the cut. It has also culminated in the roll-out of interventions to prevent girls and women from undergoing FGM. The journalist also holds regular EndFGM Live on his Facebook page.
“The End FGM Live have been very instrumental in the fight against the vice. After the outbreak of the Covid-19, it played a crucial role to advocate intervention as cases of FGM sky-rocketed following the closure of schools to curb the spread of the virus,” he says.
He also produces a podcast, dubbed EndFGM, which he hosts on his Youtube channel. The podcast speaks on challenges activists face in the fight against FGM. It is also tailored for stakeholders including lawyers, politicians and experts.
Mr Kipainoi terms the decision to fight the vice through social media the best thing ever, noting that it has helped prevent many girls from being subjected to the cut.
A case in point was December last year when he and other FGM activists resorted to Twitter and Facebook to raise the red flag over the mass cutting of girls that was ongoing in Kuria, Migori County.
“As a result of this campaign, the government swung into action and more than 50 parents were arrested and later charged in court for abetting the vice. Hundreds of girls were also rescued and taken to various rescue centres in the region,” he says.
Mr Kipainoi tells The Voice that he cannot tell the exact number of girls his campaign has helped rescue or prevent from undergoing the cut, saying they are in their thousands.
Despite the success of this social media campaign, he reveals that the journey has not been a bed of roses. It has been riddled with myriad challenges.
Mr Kipainoi has had difficulty in applying the same interventions in all the 22 FGM hotspot counties. He notes that each county where FGM is practised is unique, calling for unique interventions.
He also enumerates limited resources as a major impediment to the acceleration of the anti-FGM war.
Cross-border FGM, he adds, is another key threat. Many girls are still sneaked into neighbouring countries to undergo the cut, as parents attempt to evade the law.
The activist is, however, optimistic that the action plan by the East African member states (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Somalia) that was launched late last year, will go a long way in dealing with cross-border FGM.
Human rights instruments
The plan entails the development of a comprehensive programme of action aimed at strengthening the urgent work of implementing regional human rights instruments that call for the total elimination of FGM.
To enhance the fight against the outlawed cultural practice, the activist proposes the devolving of the Anti-FGM Board to the hotspot counties and constituencies.
This, he observes, will help in dealing with any surges or re-emergence in these areas, more so when schools close. The journalist works with local influencers like chiefs, survivors, other journalists, and activists, in his campaign.
He has previously worked as head of communication at Samburu Girls Foundation where he was directly engaging communities in four counties of northern Kenya on ending harmful cultural practices like FGM, child marriage and beading.
The beading tradition allows warriors (morans) to have a temporary marital relationship with a very young girl from his clan.
The morans buy red beads for the girl after getting the mandate from the girl’s family. The beading is meant to prepare the young girl for marriage in the future.
Mr Kipainoi was also previously employed by BBC as a researcher and assistant cinematographer. The activist hopes that the retirement of former President Uhuru Kenyatta will not spell doom to the campaign to eliminate FGM in the country.
The Kenyatta administration was instrumental in leading a national campaign targeting the counties with high FGM prevalence in a bid to eliminate the vice by the end of this year.
Apart from the social media campaign, Mr Kipainoi has another programme dubbed Mentor Zone Tours, which targets pupils and students. When he visits schools, he takes girls and boys through the dangers of FGM and what the law says about the vice.
In 2015, his work saw him win an award from the United Nation Population Fund (UNFPA) following a feature story he did on the Maasai people about the negative effects of FGM.