Shiluni Shirim receiving her gift from Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu and National Gender and Equality Commission Chairperson Madam Winfred Lichuma. (Photo by UN Women/Sharon Macharia)
“Thank you very much for this opportunity, my name is Shiluni Shirim,” says the 12-year-old Amref Health Africa Alternative Rights of Passage Ambassador. She continues to articulate very passionately how she has been speaking to her peers in the village about Female Genital Mutilation shedding more light on the effects it will have on them if they continue practicing and how she has positive response.
National Gender and Equality Commission launched a book; Gender Based Violence in Kenya: The Economic Burden on Survivors on 25th April 2017 in Nairobi. The room is filled with approximately 300 guests who are very passionate about gender issues and on stage a panel discussion on FGM is going on.
According to 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, 45% of women between 15 – 49 years have experienced physical or sexual violence in Kenya. UN Women Kenya as part of its mandate in partnership with organizations like National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC), fights Gender Based Violence in the country through support for an enabling environment to address gender based violence, in particular ensuring legislation and policies in national and target counties are adopted, known and implementation and are informed by voices of women survivors of violence.
In Kenya, particularly in the Maasai community the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) which falls in the bracket of Gender Based Violence is still a reality. The practice is grounded on believes and myths in the community which are passed over to generations.
Among the panelists is a young girl dresses in traditional Maasai attire with her neck fully covered in beads. She has the rooms’ attention, everybody is very eager to hear what a very young girl would have to contribute towards the issue being discussed. Her confidence is visible as she stretches her hand for the microphone when it’s her turn to contribute.
“In a few years’ time, I envision a country that observes child rights and no longer practices FGM,’’ 12-year-old Shiluni Shirim explains highlighting her source of motivation. Shiluni who hails from Loitoktok Kajiado County took it upon herself to speak about the effects of FGM to her peers and villagers after attending a training on Alternative Rights of Passage (ARP) organized by Amref Health Africa in 2015.
‘’Female Genital Mutilation is very wrong and has major side effects especially during birth,’’ she explains.
At her age she has been to many forums to speak about FGM courtesy of Amref Heath Africa. She clarifies that since she began speaking to her peers who she meets at school, church and in the village about the effects of FGM she has seen a reduction of the levels of girls who agree to have the cut. ‘’I have been fighting the myth that we were told growing up that, if you do not agree to undergo FGM you will struggle when giving birth which can result to death,’’ she explains.
Shiluni owes her success to her father who being a former politician has been her mentor. Being a very influential man he has opened avenues for her to meet senior people in the country. ‘’My father accompanies me everywhere I go and protects me when the elderly women come to attack me for fighting the practice they have had for many years,’’ She clarifies.
The young girl looks forward to go far and wide to share about the positive changes she has seen in her community regarding Female Genital Mutilation including speaking in the UN General Assembly. With a lot of optimism, she explains that Female Genital Mutilation being a real Gender Based Violence issue will one day be history not only within the Maasai Community but in Kenya.
‘’Children should not be taken for granted because they are the leaders of tomorrow,’’ she concludes before rushing to have a chat with the National Gender and Equality Commission Chairperson Madam Winfred Lichuma.
Gender Based Violence is mostly embedded on cultural believes which are in most cases impacted through socialization. Tapping into young leaders like Shiluni will help change the narrative of Kenya where young girls and boys will be agents of change contributing to the shift of mindset on socialization especially on harmful practices in the country.