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Our journey in the fight against FGM: Joyce Charles' story

Joyce Charles-Komesi Women Network

‘We decided to be role models to our children and start the fight against FGM in our community.” Joyce said happily.

Joyce is one of the founding members of Komesi Women’s Network which was formed in 2013. They formed a women’s group with the aim of changing the mindset of the community members towards women and lead in the fight against FGM.

Before the formation of Komesi Women’s Network, FGM was a rampant cultural practice in West Pokot.  It was being practiced in almost every household especially when schools are closed. Women’s rights were being violated and additionally they were considered as children. They could not make any decisions or be involved in decision making process at their homes.

ActionAid trained Komesi Women’s Network members and capacity build them such that they could be at the forefront in the fight against FGM in West Pokot County.  They were further linked to West Pokot County government and other government institutions for purposes of collaboration and working towards achieving the same goal.

These women have so far trained a number of people on the negative effects of FGM, reporting mechanisms  and how the community can work together towards ending FGM practice.

"We trained women in the community and made them aware of their rights and freedoms,” said Joyce. “We did not stop there, we proceeded and trained men, youths and children and sensitized them on the physical and psychological effects of FGM.”

Many children ran to the homes of members of Komesi Women’s Network when at risk of undergoing FGM. This happened during harvesting season when there’s plenty of food thus creating an enabling environment for FGM procedures and celebrations. These girls ran after the anti-FGM awareness created within their communities and they knew the effects of this cultural practice. The women network members  whole heartedly took them in as foster mothers, took care of them, gave them food and provided school fees for their education.

By 2014, they had 18 girls who fled their homes for fear of being forced into FGM and early marriage. Out of these, six of them are now in high school and still being supported by the women network.

“I am a foster mother to five girls. Some ran away from home since they were to undergo FGM. Some lost their parents who succumbed to HIV/AIDS.” Joyce tells us. “One is now in form one, one is a candidate in class 8, two are in class 6 and one in class 5.”

With funds collected from the women network members, they managed to purchase a piece of land. They then requested ActionAid to support them in construction of a safe house and resource center in 2016. The main purpose of this safe house was to create a safe space where girls at risk of FGM would stay when the schools are closed. It is during school holidays, that girls are always forced into FGM by their parents and relatives. Poor families force their children into early marriage so that they can acquire wealth.

“These girls are always taken close to the Kenya-Uganda border where they are ‘cut’. They are later forced into early marriage which immediately halts their education.” Joyce stated. ” The safe house is a good place for them to stay without any fears since it is very secure.”

Now that the safe house and resource center is constructed to its completion, Komesi Women Network members are a happy lot. This is because they currently have more than 80 girls to take care of and it has been a challenge to most of them. Majority of their members are illiterate and do not have any source of income to sustain both their families and additional foster children.

“The number keeps on growing and very soon we expect the number to reach more than a hundred girls. With the schools almost coming to a close for the second term, more girls will be coming to us to seek help. ” said Joyce.

Joyce further encourages the 70 out of school girls who normally receive vocational training on tailoring, wood curving and bead making at their workshop not to lose hope in life. She believes that they can expound on the skills learnt and make a good life out of it. She says that with the facility that they now have,the girls will have a conducive space for their trainings which are led by one of the network members.

Joyce is exultant because not only do they now have a safe house, but also a resource center which will generate income and be used to sustain both the safe house and the women’s group. She further declares that they are going to put in place quality management so as to adequately utilize the resource Center.