Report On Women Only Village Visit

October 10, 2018

We had been looking forward to visiting an all-woman visit for some time.  Finally, on October 10th, the day arrived, and we went to see what we would see.

All the women at the village have been cut, the oldest woman is around 80 years old, the youngest is 17 years old.

The group of women came together about 8 years ago. They have a Chair-lady who heads the village.  The Chair-lady handles all issues pertaining to food distribution, discipline, the welcoming of guests, and handling the visits from the men when they come to see their children.

The women started off from the UMOJA WOMEN VILLAGE, but they broke off and started a similar village called UNITY WOMENS VILLAGE.

The men can visit their children in the day time, but they are not allowed inside the manyatta (homestead).

Girl education in the Samburu community is frowned upon. A woman’s worth is in the dowry she brings her parents.

This brave and fed-up group of women moved away from their homes because they were tired of being abused physically and emotionally by their husbands. They did not have any say in the way the affairs of the home were run, there responsibility was only to give birth, and to take care of the children and the animals.

The men owned everything, the women had no voice even regarding the sharing of property.

Reporting cases of abuse and FGM to the police station was not an option; they would be cursed by the elders and segregated in the community for doing so. FGM is a way of life for the community.

Any uncut girl cannot get married within the community. The girls are cut there from the age of 8-15 years of age.

For a woman to perform cultural rituals when her husband dies, she must have under gone the cut. There is also wife inheritance, the woman to be inherited must have undergone the cut.

The community believes that when a girl is educated, she will get married and overrule the husband; she will not be submissive. An educated girl might not get married to a man in her community, denying the parents the much-desired dowry. Therefore, she would not be not an asset to her family.

A Samburu man cannot take an uncut girl to his parents even from another community. The family would be castigated and mocked by the rest of the community. He, therefore, cannot be allowed to marry her. If he insists and marries the woman, and was later to die, the community would not recognize the woman and her children. In the event that the man lost his wife first, he could not marry from the community for having disobeyed his parents by marrying an uncut woman. He would have to marry from ‘the outside’. Basically, he would become an outcast. FGM is their way of life; they do not know any other way, they are not ready to abandon the knife.

The women in the women-only village hope to educate their girls, so that they may fight for their rights when the time comes.

Many people visit the women-only village and make empty promises to help the women educate their girls. If this were to happen, the women believe this would change the trend on the current situation where every girl must be cut at the stipulated period, a practice carried out every year.






Observations from the Girls

One of the girls feels the women only village is not a good idea because it separates families; the children grow up with only one parent. She, however, supports the action the women have taken instead of staying in abusive relationships.

The men need someone to talk to them to relax the rules, so that they can learn to stop breaking up families. The boys also need guidance because they observe their fathers and behave the same way when they have their families.

Another girl feels it is a good idea because the women are now free to educate their girls. They can sell their beads and use the cash to better their lives. She, however, was very upset about the cutting of the girls. She had a heated debate with the village elder to the point she shed tears.  She asked that the elders let the girls go to school and make that decision on their own when they are of age. She explained to the elder how fortunate she was to get an education; not only did it save her from the cut and a life of misery, but broadened her entire perspective on life, in general.

Another girl thinks it’s a good idea because the women can have a sense of belonging and voice their opinions without being shut down by the men. They can also own property. She wished to talk to the girls about the dangers of FGM and the benefit of getting an education.



Supervisors’ Observations

Our girls were totally shocked at the boldness with which the older women embraced FGM, how the older women did not find it a big deal, stating that they had been cut and they are fine, and the younger girls will be as well. We tried to educate them on the dangers that their girls’ risk like fistula and bleeding to death, infections and trauma; they looked at us like they were hearing the information for the first time.

There is a great need to educate those who circumcise. They simply do not know any better, and they use circumcision as a way of gaining both an income and status. The circumcisers need to be educated on the dangers of FGM and taught others skills and means to earn a living.

There is a great need to create awareness on FGM, it seems most girls have no option when it comes to being cut. Workshops would help a great deal.

The concept of the village is good, but there is a possibility of influential people especially politicians using it as a money-making scheme to get money from funders which will not benefit the women. It is hard to determine who is genuinely concerned about the women and which people are not. Most individuals visit out of curiosity, but do not offer any help. The women greatly appreciated our food donation and buying their bead work.

The women need income generating activities. Without this, they will get desperate and move back to their homes looking for support from the men. The bead work they do is a general activity that is carried out by the whole community. Unless they get outsiders to buy the bead work, their own people won’t buy because they are all equipped in the art of bead making.

The climate in Samburu is very much like the Pokot climate: hot and humid; food and water are scarce. The women are desperate for a better life; they are begging for a better life.

The bottom line is that the women-only village is a bold move, but they need support as more and more women are joining the villages. There is need for dialogue in the communities, so that the men can change their way of handling the women, so the men become involved and help bring up the children in a wholesome environment. There is constant threat from the men to burn the villages, so that the women are forced to go back home. They deem the women as rebellious. The women must walk in groups when going to fetch firewood or water least they get attacked. FGM is outlawed in Kenya, but in the Samburu community, the rule does not seem to apply. The only way left for the young girls to be helped is to be taken away from the community and given a better way of life, otherwise they are at the mercy of their culture which spells doom for them.

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