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It costs just $14 to protect a Kenyan Girl from FGM
Kenyan girls’ rights campaigner Josephine Kulea, founder of Samburu Girls Foundation, performs a welcome dance with others in her community for Nimco Ali in Maralal, northern Kenya, in 2019. Alice Aedy/Handout via Thomson Reuters Foundation
African women on the frontlines of the global fight to end female genital mutilation (FGM) do most of the work, yet get next to none of the funding
Nimco Ali, CEO of The Five Foundation, which supports grassroots activism to end violence against women and girls.
Since I started my activism to end female genital mutilation (FGM) well over a decade ago, it has been obvious to me that African women on the frontlines have been doing the vast majority of the work, yet getting next to none of the funding.
It seems that we are supposed to volunteer our time for free rather than get paid for our labour, while funding has been given instead to charities in the West, who are typically not able to reach the grassroots, where change happens. It has never made sense to me, but continues to this day, with most of the miniscule amount of funding to end FGM going to consultancy groups who know very little about the realities women like me have had to face.
I underwent FGM at age 7 in Djibouti, East Africa. As one of the 200 million women and girls who survived it, I know that we cannot end this abuse of a girl’s rights unless we support grassroots activists - people who look like and know the communities they are working in. A woman in rural Somaliland is not going to do anything that some sociologist from London tells her to do, irrespective of how supposedly robust their “theory of change” is meant to be.
When I co-founded The Five Foundation nearly four years ago to help prioritise the issue on the global agenda and leverage new sources of funding to end it, I was told by donors that they cannot provide funds to any great extent as (apparently) we do not have enough evidence to show what works. This was in spite of the fact that they fund all sorts of social change activism that is not easy to measure.
Since then, we have worked to build the evidence base and partnered with researchers such as the Population Council-led FGM Data Hub, which has carried out extensive research into what approaches work best (and which do not work well) when it comes to ending FGM.
We also set up The Five Fund, a donor collaborative initiative, which piloted in the Kuria region of Kenya last year. With relatively small grants given over three years to Msichana Empowerment Kuria, Safe Engage Foundation and Zinduka, we have been able to elevate the local activist network and help them track the impact they have been making.
Early results show that it has cost just over £11 ($14) to protect a single girl from the lifelong devastating medical and psychological consequences of FGM. Thousands of girls have already been protected, with plans for many more in the months to come. With even more investment and fine-tuning of what we have done to date, I know that this figure will continue to decrease.
Late last year, we also extended the pilot to the West Pokot and Kajiado regions and - supported by our local lead, Natalie Robi Tingo - are making sure that everything is led by Kenyans for Kenyans. This country is leading globally in terms of ending FGM. New government statistics show that, for the first time, less than 10% of girls under 15 have undergone it - down from nearly 50% just a few decades ago. This rapid decrease has happened because a fierce network of mostly women activists have been changing hearts and minds consistently for several years, alongside a government that is at least trying to support them.
Change is happening too at the global level. I am writing this from Somaliland, where things are hopefully moving forward too. For several years, The Five Foundation has been supporting a new ban on FGM, but various obstacles have got in the way until now. I am confident that the country will pass it in the very near future. This will build on the success we had two years ago in Sudan, with hopefully more to come in the months to come in Sierra Leone. We have also worked to persuade the United Kingdom to adopt feminist principles in its foreign policy and in international aid.
Ending FGM and related forms of violence of girls, such as supposed “child marriage”, is something that can happen by 2030, but donors have to stop getting things back to front when it comes to deciding what type of activism to support.
Trusting and funding African activists directly is how we will get to a new era beyond FGM, where women themselves will be able to live their lives without fear and contribute. There is no argument to do otherwise and I do not want to listen to any more donors telling me they do not know what they should fund when it comes to African women. We have known what works for a long time and now we have the firm evidence to prove it.
- Gender equity
- Wealth inequality
- Race and inequality
- Economic inclusion
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