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Jennifer Kibon: Strong for Human Rights in Baringo County!

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"I will not be silent and let girls in my community undergo FGM because this means that they will drop out of school and be married off young, like I was."

57-year-old Jennifer Kibon is Human Rights Defender living in Ol Mukutan in Tiaty, Baringo County.

Volunteering her time an efforts for those whose rights have been abused in Baringo, Jennifer has made considerable contributions towards ensuring her community members live a life of dignity.

Jeniffer comes from a community where female genital mutilation and child marriages are common. She has always spoken courageously against the vice and this has earned her enemies amongst her community members, especially men.  She has even managed to personally rescue over 50 school-going girls from child marriage and has been instrumental in reconciling the rescued girls with their families before they are finally accepted back to their families. This, however, has not been an easy task for her because she has on various occasions been threatened by some of the village elders who believe that FGM and child marriage are age-old cultural practices and no one should stand in the way of culture.

The mother of six began her activism against FGM when she differed with her husband, who wanted their daughters to undergo FGM. This disagreement with culture and her husband’s demand got her separated as her husband decided to move out and marry another wife. Now, her second daughter is in the university and she is proud that her efforts to secure her children’s future are paying off.

“I will not be silent and let girls in my community undergo FGM because this means that they will drop out of school and be married off like I was. Girls in Ol Mukutan know that I can offer help when they suspect their parents are planning to take them for FGM. Some time back, I housed 10 girls who had escaped from their homes for the fear of undergoing FGM.” she says.

Jennifer has reported and publicly condemned many cases of violation of women's and girls’ rights and for this, she has received countless threats from parents whose girls ran away from home for the fear of undergoing FGM.

She at one time rescued a victim of rape and reported the case to the police, Tangulbei Women’s Network and the Children’s Officer in the locality. The perpetrator, who was well known, issued threats for her to withdraw the case but went into hiding when she kept pushing for his arrest.

She is a counsellor at the girls’ forums in schools and during holidays and urges girls to pursue education and abstain from the traditional practices that undermine women's dignity.

Her activism is not restricted to gender-based violence. In 2016, Jenniffer mobilized over 200 women from Kaptuya and Ol Mukutan to resist a possible land grab from the proprietor of Laikipia Nature Conservancy who was encroaching into community land. The protest was widely covered in local TV stations with the locals calling for the opening up of an access road through the conservancy which was blocked by the conservancy, thus denying the locals access to nearby markets, pasture for animals and even clean portable water.

With the blocked access road, the locals are forced to go round the conservancy a distance of over 200km and as there is no public transport available because of the remoteness of the area, the locals especially women spent up to two days to reach the nearby markets in Laikipia to purchase food for their children and families.

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Jennifer Kibon(left) at this year's annual National End FGM Conference in Narok County. The conference brought together anti-FGM activist across the country.
Kevin Majoni/ActionAid Kenya

Due to this magnitude of exposure, Jeniffer received death threats from unknown people which made her fear for her life. This, however, did not deter her from soldiering on and speaking against the violations that women and girls face in her community. She has stood out as one of the peace ambassadors in her community since she is always called upon to negotiate whenever tension is building up in OL Mukutan area.

As she is recognized as a peace ambassador, Jennifer is always called to participate in various peace meetings in Baringo County.

Once, she was arrested and detained for 14 days after war broke out between two communities, the Pokot and the Tugen and charged with incitement. Her arrest came as a result of her being outspoken against police brutality that was witnessed in her area when an operation to quell the tension was deployed in her area. She was eventually released unconditionally after the police established that she did not commit any criminal offense.

Jennifer is one of the many women we work with Baringo County and we applaud her courage and resilience when defending human rights.

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Thomas