It is during her stay in Kamuthe that the mother of six realized that women in the area were being oppressed. Their rights were being violated. Women were being subjected to physical violence from their husbands but no one could speak out since it was a normal thing.
A world where everyone enjoys their rights is what most people would consider a just world, but for the people of Kamuthe in Garissa County, it has taken them years to even discover that women have rights. Poverty has for long been a norm here, an area that is rich in livestock production and the longest river in Kenya flowing just right across the small hushed village that is 40 kilometers away from Garissa Town.
For Maka Kassim, all she needed was education to help her fight for women rights. She moved into Kamuthe as a wife, an educated woman, but with time she had to quit her career as an Early Childhood Development Education teacher to take care of her family. That was the role of a woman according to the community in Kamuthe.
“I got married into a clan where girls were not allowed to go to school, let alone pursue a career. I had to quit my job to take care of my new family.” She said.
It is during her stay in Kamuthe that the mother of six realized that women in the area were being oppressed. Their rights were being violated. Women were being subjected to physical violence from their husbands but no one could speak out since it was a normal thing. Early marriage was also dominant in the area and cases of FGM were rampant. This agitated Maka and she resolved to fight the vices, her spirit of love for humanity and service pushed her to do something for her community.
“I started by engaging a few women and soon, we started a group, Kamuthe Women Network with five members in 2013 and have since grown to a membership of 51. At the time, Action Aid had moved to the area and we went through several training sessions that motivated us to power our voice.”Maka added.
It is through the training that they learnt of women rights and went out, fired up and ready to share this newfound knowledge to their villages.
Unfortunately for Maka, her dream to bring change to society was met by reluctance and insults from the community. Some even thought she was mad. Her landlord chased her away for fighting FGM and she was forced to operate from the chief’s office. Maka’s advocacy for women and girls’ rights has never been easy, but her zeal to fight keeps her going.
“When starting Kamuthe Women’s Network, I was rejected by my own family for fighting against female circumcision; my relationship with my in-laws was bad. Everyone thought I am fighting their cultural ways” she said, adding that with time her family came to understand that she was doing the right thing.
The 42-year-old has also shown interested in being the area chief and she is optimistic that she will be considered. When appointed, she promises to ensure no girl in the area undergoes FGM and those that are found engaging in the crime are brought to book. She promises to also ensure children go to school and also provide for adult education. Maka further says that being in the government will ease her work of fighting for women rights.
“I have applied for the position of Area Chief three times unsuccessfully because of political interference and resistance from some members who claim I do not belong to this clan despite the fact that I meet all qualifications and my husband is from this clan. It, however, does not kill my spirit and I will continue applying for the position until they elect me. In the unfortunate event that I am not nominated, I will work closely with whoever will be elected to see that Kamuthe residents benefit from different income generating activities and FGM is not tolerated in Kamuthe."
She further narrates that her education level does not qualify her for an elective position in politics but her daughter has expressed interest in vying for Member of County Assembly in the 2022 general elections. Maka is hopeful that through her daughter, Kamuthe will have the first ever elected female MCA in Garissa County. She is glad to have mentored many women in her County and the neighboring Tana River County through media engagements and helped reduce the rate of FGM and early marriages.
“I receive phone calls from all corners of Garissa and Tana River to rescue girls from FGM and early marriages. In some cases, I take the girls to my home and I currently have a 16-year-old girl that we rescued when she was about to be married off, she will sit for her end of secondary exams in the next few weeks. This is the change we need in this country. Her father came asking for an apology from me for wanting to marry his daughter off saying that he now values education. These girls will be our future leaders.”
Maka further narrates that through Kamuthe Women Network that she chairs, they have been able to train women on income generating activities like farming and table banking. The group has also joined with other members of the community and they manage a plantation of bananas, tomatoes and capsicum which they sell to the nearby market.
Her advice to Kenyan women is to support each other and unite to fight for the rights of every woman in Kenya. She strongly believes that if Kenyan women unite for a purpose, they can manage to elect a female president.