OPINION: Why Agnes Ayacko, Fatuma Mohammed and Rahab Robi are three ‘Iron Ladies’ to fight FGM, gender threat in Migori

By Christopher Wawire

According to World Health Organization; more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is practiced. About 44,000 girls dies every year out of FGM in Africa.

Treatment of the health complications of FGM is estimated to cost health systems US$ 1.4 billion per year, a number expected to rise unless urgent action is taken towards its abandonment.

Migori County is one of the counties in Kenya afflicted by FGM and other cultural practices that violates the rights to girls leading to early marriages and prevention of enjoyment of maximum fundamental rights. 

The Constitution under article 100 classifies women as a special interest group. Article 27 (3) guarantees them equal treatment, including the right to equal opportunity, in the political sphere. Article 27 (6) states that,

To give full effect to the realization of the rights guaranteed under this Article, the State shall take legislative and other measures, including affirmative action programmes and policies designed to redress any disadvantage suffered by individuals or groups because of past discrimination

Consequently; three ‘Iron ladies’ namely; Hon Fatuma Mohammed -Migori County Woman Representative, Dr Agnes Ochilo-Migori County First Lady and Hon.Rahab Robi- CECM for Education, Gender, Youth, Sports, Culture and Social Services Migori County; have declared war on FGM, early marriages/pregnancies, HIV prevalence rate and gender based violence.

Migori County first lady Dr. Agnes Ochilo through her foundation has initiated progammes targeting improvement of reproductive health, FGM, eradication of early marriages and teenage pregnancies.

 Some 85 women in Migori County have undergone free fistula treatment, a condition that has subjected majority of Kenyan women to many years of shame, isolation and suffering through Dr Agnes Ochilo’s initiative.

During this program, Chair Safaricom Foundation Joe Ogutu noted that fistula condition should not be treated as an embarrassing disease by the community but instead, the community should help to identify and encourage women to come out and seek fistula medication to restore their dignity and hope.

He said that it was critical for women to be given proper education right from conception to childbirth to help them seek fistula screening. 

Migori Governor Dr. Ochilo Ayacko acknowledged that the county was grateful for the fistula support accorded to Migori women with the condition. He said that the county alone could not afford the fistula repair because of the cost involved in the medication process.

For one fistula treatment an individual will require between Sh200,000 to Sh300,000 an amount majority of the poor families cannot afford,” noted Ochilo.  

The governor also affirmed that they will initiate a proposal with the fistula partners to establish a Community Center for fistula patients in the region in order to help as many women as possible.

Similarly, Migori Governor’s Wife Agnes Ochilo noted that fistula in women had been partially brought about by issues of gender-based violence.

She pointed out that some of the identified fistula conditions among teenage girls were a result of incest and rape. Agnes emphasised that the isolation, hostility, and rejection from family members and community have subjected women with fistula conditions to be victims of violence and stigmatization.

 First Ladies from Seven counties led by Dr Agnes Ochilo have sworn to champion the eradication retrogressive vice of Female Genital Mutilation from their backyards.

The First Ladies; Dr Agnes Ochillo (Migori), Emily Nyaribo (Nyamira), Alamitu Jattani (Marsabit), Scivia Kachapin (West Pokot), Edna Lenku (Kajiado), Agnes Ntutu of Narok and Sabina Mwadime of Taita Taveta committed to do campaigns to uproot the vice from their communities.

The Governor’s spouses unanimously agreed that FGM vice had denied women their rights, messed their health status and disrupted their socio-economic agenda.

This was during a one-week camp meeting dabbed “kambi la wasichana”, which was held in Migori to deliberate, benchmark and share ideas on how best to end FGM.

The event brought together a total of 200 Kuria girls drawn from the Kuria region who benefited from the FGM awareness campaign and were trained as Anti-FGM ambassadors.

.Migori First Lady Dr.Agnes Ochilo pointed out that women across Kenya were being empowered economically and those that were still hanging on the retrogressive culture of FGM had no place in modern society.

Dr.Agnes disclosed that all parties in Kuria have signed an agreement to end FGM so as to focus on transformative socioeconomic agendas and the promotion of positive Kuria traditions and cultures.

“We have already spent substantial amounts of resources in terms of time and financials on FGM. It is now time to pull resources together and utilize them well for a good course to help and empower the Kuria girls and community at large”, affirmed Dr Agnes.

When a girl undergoes FGM she is expected to be married which leads to high risks of contracting HIV infection and be a victim of Gender-based violence

She encouraged the 200 Kuria girls who were trained as Anti-FGM ambassadors to be the voice of their peers and community in advocating for their rights in ending the FGM.

Cyprin Wasike from the National Syndetic Diseases Control Council (NACC) acknowledged that FGM has been one of the predicaments that has propelled health complications among pregnant women.

He stressed that FGM has largely contributed to HIV prevalence among adolescents, with Migori County among the top counties with a high HIV prevalence rate between the ages of 15-24 years.

“When a girl undergoes FGM she is expected to be married which leads to high risks of contracting HIV infection and be a victim of Gender-based violence,” he said.

Wasike urged the elders and political leaders in FGM-practicing communities to be the voice of the voiceless in championing the Anti-FGM.

The event was also attended by Councils of Elders from Marsabit and Nyamira Counties, and the Suba and Kuria Clans of Migori County.

Hon. Rahab Robi is a public servant who started her career as a teacher before joining Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission as a Deputy Regional Co-ordinator (Nyanza and Western region).

She joined politics and governance sphere and served as a legislator in Migori County Assembly in the years 2013 – 2017 where she chaired the Water and Energy committee. In 2017 general elections she vied for Member of Parliament for Kuria East Constituency. Later in 2019, she served as a Director with the Public Procurement Administrative Review Board.

She has attended several local and International trainings on Women in Leadership such as African Women Leadership Training Conference (Cote d’Ivoire), Africa Liberal Networks (Kenya), Environment Conservation LAVLAC (United Arab Emirates), Devolved Government legislations (India), Fostering social unity and promoting the welfare of commercial and industrial communities (Uganda), Kenya Procurement Training Mini – Series 1 (Global Procurement Initiative) and other short courses on security management.  

Hon. Rahab Robi is also the founder and Executive Director of Kuria Women Empowerment League where she oversees management functions and engages with the wider community through girl child mentorship and women social economic empowerment. Her areas of focus are on quality education, gender equality, decent work and economic growth, and sustainable communities.

Recently, Hon.Rahab Robi- CECM for Education, Gender, Youth, Sports, Culture and Social Services Migori County partnering with the first lady’s office  started a new initiative dubbed Catalyzing Whole Community Response for Abandonment of FGM Project.

This is one of the strategies the county is using to end gender-based violence, among other harmful practices.

The county through the catalyzing whole community response for abandonment of FGM project, has partnered with the Network for Adolescent and Youth of Africa (NAYA), Tunaweza Empowerment Organization (TEO) and the United Nation Children’s Fund (Unicef) to ensure it is free of the harmful practice and other forms of gender based violence.

Fatuma Mohammed aka Fatuma Full Network came into the limelight in 2013 when she first wanted to vie for the Woman Representative position in Migori County. Aside from being a businesswoman, she has been doing girl child empowerment and has seen more than 30 girls join and complete secondary school.

“It is not that I have money but I am usually compelled to help girls get education,” Mohammed says.

Despite facing tough times in the political world, she gave the Woman Rep seat a third stab. Mohammed who joined politics in 2013 was motivated by the 2010 constitution which created space for women. Besides, she was inspired by her mother who was a councilor for 20 years during the KANU regime.

When she came back from Italy and discovered that there was a new constitution that created space for women, Fatuma shared her ambitions with her mother.

Her mother thought she was too young to become an MP, arguing that the position would give her a headache. Consequently, Fatuma’s mother introduced her to a senior politician from Migori County who advised her to seek a ward representative position instead. 

Hon. Fatuma Mohamed has since defied all the odds to clinch the Woman Member in the national assembly for Migori County. Through her position she is empowering women and girls by well thought out programs and policies.