Meet an FGM survivor using social media to fight vice

Sarafina Loriakwe, a resident of Samburu County, explains how she uses her social media platform to sensitise people to FGM.

Photo credit: Boniface Mwangi I Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • In Kenya, female genital cutting among those aged 15–49 stands at 15 per cent, according to KDHS 2022.
  • Data from the Anti-FGM Board shows that four million women and girls have been mutilated in the last 10 years.

After completing her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) at Maralal DEP Primary School in Samburu County in 2013, Sarafina Loriakwe faced the agony of rite of passage.

Then aged 14, she was forced to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) to transition from childhood to womanhood. She was to face the knife with her two younger sisters. That evening, the three shaved their hair, applied red soil, and proceeded to the river to fetch water in preparation for the early morning ceremony.

She says they were put in seclusion overnight, in one of the huts in the compound, to avoid mixing with other girls, but could hear people singing and dancing in jubilation outside. An elderly woman hired for the ritual made her way to their home at night.

They knew her. She carried a small bag containing her tools of trade. At 5am, the girls were awakened and marched to a hut where the mutilation took place, surrounded by relatives, among other witnesses. Within minutes, it was done, sending the whole village into celebration.

Despite braving the knife for the sake of her family and younger sisters, Ms Loriakwe says the pain was unbearable. She was unconscious for the better part of the day because of severe bleeding.

“I was the first one to undergo the cut. It was a very painful experience. I had to be brave. We were not supposed to cry while we were being cut. We were expected to exhibit maximum courage,” she recalls.

“I was not prepared to undergo the cut. It was just immediately after [my KCPE] exam. I was told the whole ceremony had been planned. I was not prepared physically or physiologically. In school, we had been taught about FGM, so I knew its dangers but had no option.”


The healing process took two weeks. She was now a full woman, according to her community's culture. Ms Loriakwe says she thought of escaping but had to remain behind for fear of being disowned by her parents or the community for "embarrassing” them.

According to her, she had to be cut to pave the way for her younger sister, who was to be married off despite her tender age. Ms Loriakwe is the firstborn.

Although many girls were married off immediately after undergoing FGM, she was lucky, thanks to her good performance in school. She secured a scholarship to join Falling Water Girls’ Secondary School in Nyahururu and later joined Catholic University to pursue statistics.

“I did it for the sake of them because I felt it was right. As much as I had information about it, there were a lot of gaps, knowing where to run or how to express myself in a way that wouldn’t offend my parents and elders. If I was given a chance to choose, I would not have gone through it,” she says.

“After joining Form One and meeting girls from different backgrounds, I realised many had not been cut. From the day I was cut, I carried pain, stigma, and emotional and psychological trauma. The pain is always there.”

Sarafina Loriakwe, a resident of Samburu County, explains how she uses her social media platform to sensitise people to FGM.

Photo credit: Boniface Mwangi I Nation Media Group

Ms Loriakwe refuses to let the horrific mutilation she suffered define her. “I don’t want to be a victim. I want to be a voice in my community,” she says.

She now uses social media platforms to educate society, especially young girls, on the impact of the outlawed practice on women by speaking out about it. The anti-FGM champion notes that FGM survivors look normal but endure its dreadful scars for the rest of their lives.

“In our community, it is like a ritual; if you do not undergo the cut, they do not recognise you as a full woman. There are a lot of myths around it. You find that if you end up pregnant when you are not cut, your child will not be accepted in the community. This leaves women with no option but to undergo it, besides the pressure from your peers,” she notes.

She was among participants at a three-day meeting for civil society-led Network on Ending FGM, in Naivasha, Nakuru County.

According to Anti-FGM Board Chairperson Sulum Ipato, the government aims to eradicate the vice by 2030. They, however, face several hurdles, including emerging trends like medicalised or cross-border FGM that perpetrators use to circumvent the law.

Ms Ipato notes that cross-border FGM has worsened the situation in the north. “Schoolchildren are at home for their holiday. Parents may be tempted to take their girls for circumcision, but we have a pool of champions who are vigilant in the community. They bring in communications, and girls are saved,” she says.

Grassroots mobilisation

Dr Jacinta Muteshi, team lead at The Girl Generation: Support to the Africa-led Movement to End FGM/C, says they engage civil society groups because they are closer to communities. She says many FGM cases go unreported out of fear of arrest and prosecution, hence it continues to be done in secrecy.

The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2022 shows that FGM/C among girls and women aged 15–49 has dropped from 21 per cent to 15 per cent in the last 10 years. This drop is attributed to efforts by the government and non-governmental organisations in sensitising communities and ensuring perpetrators are held to account.

While 96 per cent of men and women surveyed agree that FGM should not continue, the prevalence is still very high in counties like Mandera (96 per cent), Wajir (97 per cent), Garissa (83 per cent), and Marsabit (83 per cent).

Stakeholders are optimistic that ongoing efforts by different organisations will result in a further decline in the coming years. Data from the Anti-FGM Board shows that four million women and girls have been mutilated in the last 10 years.