What you need to know:
- The name Valley of Death is used to signify the volatility of the area due to perennial cattle rustling and banditry that have led to loss of lives and livestock.
- Festus Kipkorir has made a name for himself by leading the fight against female genital mutilation and child marriage.
About 100 kilometres from Iten town, we arrive at Kipyembo trading centre deep inside Elgeyo Marakwet County.
The centre is a hive of activity on this bright sunny afternoon. Traders have displayed their goods, with mangoes and honey being the most conspicuous products on sale.
This area is known for mango farming and beekeeping. Locals also grow maize. From Kipyembo, we begin another journey to Kabasiran village 26km away. We drive through a rough road down the valley and arrive after 30 minutes.
“Welcome to the Valley of Death,” a slender gentleman welcomes us at the Kipyembo sublocation office.
Valley of Death is used to refer to Kerio Valley, whose volatility is due to perennial cattle rustling and banditry that have led to loss of lives and livestock.
The man welcoming us is Festus Kipkorir, who has made a name for himself by leading the fight against female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage.
Today, he is holding a forum to educate residents on the dangers of FGM and child marriage. Among those present is Assistant Chief Harman Komen.
Festus reveals he has been a lone ranger as a man leading the campaign. To make maximum impact and end these harmful practices, he says he has been carrying out awareness campaigns in churches, schools, markets and public barazas, among other places.
FGM and child marriage cases have been rampant in this region. What motivated Festus to embark on this risky journey?
“I chose to become a champion against FGM and child marriage after I witnessed my sisters and cousins being cut and later married off. Their screams as they underwent the horrible act still lingers in my mind. This was an outright violation of their human rights and I decided to talk against it to protect other girls from undergoing the same,” Festus tells Nation.Africa.
He has also been leading a campaign against teenage pregnancy and gender-based violence (GBV). Cases are rampant, with most schools closed because of insecurity. To curb this menace, Festus has been advocating for civil education on teenage education and awareness on children both boys and girls.
Festus is part of the Nitasimama Imara Young Male Gender Equality Champions, the brainchild of the Thriving Communities Africa (TCA) in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
The two organisations designed and rolled out the strategic community-based initiative to empower young men as champions and agents of change. They campaign against negative social, gender and cultural norms.
The champions are trained and equipped to support women’s and girls’ rights at the community level, and sensitise their communities to the consequences of GBV and harmful traditions. The programme specifically targets boys and men aged 10 and above.
Nitasimama Imara is a Swahili phrase for ‘I will stand firm’ and is a self- affirmation and commitment by the champions to stand up to harmful practices and promote gender equality and women empowerment. UNFPA and TCA have trained 30 male champions in the county.
Festus praises the programme for its life-changing achievements. “Men’s perception of women and girls has changed. It is no secret that they now respect women and girls,” he says, revealing that he has already recruited 20 young men who are assisting him to fight the harmful practices in the vast county.
The young champion singles out insecurity, rough terrain, lack of resources and logistical nightmares as some of the biggest challenges facing his campaign.
Drop in prevalence
Mr Komen notes that FGM, child marriage and GBV cases have reduced in his sublocation as a result of the campaign spearheaded by Festus. He adds that the local administration is working with Festus and his group to enlighten the locals on the dangers of harmful practices.
“We are very happy with this campaign as it has drastically brought down the prevalence of these harmful practices. In the past, I would get about five cases of FGM, child marriage and GBV, but a month is passing these days without a single case being reported,” says the administrator.
Thriving Communities Africa CEO Faith Nashipae underscores the importance of engaging men and boys in the campaigns. She says boys and men are the ones providing security when girls are being circumcised, hence the need to involve them.
“Men and boys are the biggest perpetrators and violators of gender-based violence, which was the reason we needed to focus on them. They have been sidelined in the GBV fight despite being one of the most important players, a situation that has derailed the campaign. This is why we need to recognise and involve them to make the world a better place for women and girls,” said Ms Nashipae.
Data from the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2022 key indicators report shows that 30.2 per cent of women aged 15–49 in Elgeyo Marakwet County experienced physical violence in the 12 months preceding the survey, nearly double the national average of 16 per cent.
Both FGM and child marriage have been illegal in Kenya since 2001 when the Children’s Act came into effect. Other laws such as the Sexual Offences Act, 2006; the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act, 2011; and the Marriage Act, 2014, which sets the age of marriage at 18 years, also protect girls from these practices.
Through these laws, the government acknowledges that both practices have a harmful effect on the rights of women and girls. The traditions, however, remain common, with the national prevalence of child marriage at 23 per cent and FGM at 15 per cent.