I managed to escape the cut. My father was an educated man and did not want his children to experience it. Sadly he died when I was a child, but by the time I reached the cutting age, I refused it because of his teaching and my mother gave me shelter and protection. Many of my friends were not so lucky.
I have been able to finish school and I am now studying Actuarial Science at Karatina University in central Kenya. I am passionate about bringing an end to FGM so that more girls can have the chances I have had, so I've been working for many years to train and educate communities in rural parts of Kenya about the dangers of continuing the practice.
I have been volunteering at the Education Centre for the Advancement of Women (ECAW) in the Kuria region since 2012. We go to schools and community forums in remote areas where we deliver workshops about the risks of the practice. ECAW works with Feed the Minds, an international development education charity, who have supported us to work in new communities, and capture more stakeholders who would not have been involved before. We have worked in other parts of Kuria, not just with the girls but with their parents as well, who are ultimately the decision makers.
FGM has done much damage in my community. By the time I left primary school, everyone apart from two of us in my class were cut. Many of them were unable to finish their education because they had to drop out. Once they left school, all they were taught was how to be the "woman" in the family, and how to help their husbands. Some even got married very soon after they left school.
A lot of them have had problems as they've got older. When they give birth, they experience a huge amount of pain, and their wounds open up again and are at risk of infection. Sadly, many women die due to complications from the cut. For others, education is key to making a living and providing for their family, and they have missed that, so they cannot get employed either. It is a tragedy for them.
In many of the cultures where this is practiced, the rite is a sign of becoming a woman, and leaving childhood behind. However, often the victims are only children themselves, as the cut can happen to girls as young as nine or ten.
The main challenge to ending FGM is simply overcoming the culture. Many people have believed in FGM all their life, so to get them to abandon a belief and culture they have always had is very difficult. Education is really the only way to get past this barrier. Through the work of ECAW and Feed the Minds I have seen families decide not to proceed with the ritual.
I do believe FGM will stop, but it will take a long time and at a very slow rate. Communities are changing so that girls who are not cut are now getting an education and are becoming respected in that way. They become role models to the rest of the community. This cultural shift, along with awareness around the dangers of the cut itself, will hopefully lead to ending FGM.
It is through the collaboration between communities, individuals and organisations that I believe we can bring about an end to FGM in our lifetime.