Kenya: 'they want me to be silent'
06 February 2016

Women at an HIV awareness session in Hargeisa, Somalia (Giulio D'Ercole / Jesuit Refugee Service)
They really discourage me and want me to be silent. Sometimes I am afraid and know I need to be careful because I lack real protection.

Kakuma, 6 February 2016 – For the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation...

I am a 25-year-old Somali woman living in Kenya. I am a refugee activist working to counter sexual violence in my community.

Here in Kakuma refugee camp, many young girls, especially Somali girls, under the age of 16 or so have undergone female genital mutilation. They really suffer from this. Infections are common, women can die in child birth and they suffer from a lot of pain. I've seen the consequences and felt this pain myself.

I decided I wanted to help stop this practice. I talked to my mom and she agreed to help me. She said, "You should talk with these women in your community even though they are going to go against you and might think you are betraying the culture, you should advocate against this." This is my goal and my passion: to see this practice end for the younger generation. 

I started by educating mothers and grandmothers of younger girls. At the beginning it was only my mom and I but later my mother's friend joined and then after a year I had about two dozen women who joined my campaign. It was really hard but finally I had allies who helped me educate others about the harmful effects of FGM. Eventually mothers began to promise they wouldn't put their daughters through with FGM.

My mom would come and tell about her experience and we let other women share their own stories too. I told them, "You are a woman and your daughter will become a woman so what you went through, your daughter will also go through." I would also use the Qur'an. I called in a sheik to come in and he told them this practice is completely forbidden in Islam, that FGM is actually a tradition from the old Egyptian pharaohs with no religious background.

I also raised awareness with younger girls. Some of them who had already been cut asked me how they could reverse it. I investigated and found that doctors in Kakuma will remove the stitching in a minor surgery for free. I connected some girls to the doctors so they could do this. 

Then I started an initiative with the men who were ready to get married. Many agreed with me and knew it was harmful, but really making lasting change is difficult.

It is really hard to address such a sensitive topic in front of my entire community. An elder once condemned me in front of everyone and told me that this has occurred for generations and isn't something I can ever stop. They really discourage me and want me to be silent. Sometimes I am afraid and know I need to be careful because I lack real protection. I know my limits though.

Someday I hope I can leave to receive more education abroad and then come back with real rights. I can teach and speak out more strongly without worrying about my security. I also hope that more emphasis is put on this issue by refugee women and organizations. We need safe spaces to speak out, raise awareness and educate others. In addition, we need more support from men because they can influence other men much easier that I can. 

Ultimately, though, we need safe spaces for refugee girls. To be a girl in Kakuma can be very dangerous. Someday I'll open my own NGO here to host young unaccompanied girls and allow them to focus on school and live free from sexual violence.

--Amina* (not real name), 2014 graduate of Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins