On February 6th every year, the world marks the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. While this is just one day set aside to remember those affected by FGM, many women and girls undergo the cut every day. This is a practice that is so deeply ingrained in culture and comes along with many myths and misconceptions. Many people believe that those who undergo the cut are not educated. While this is true for the majority, many women who are educated confess to having been forced to go through FGM. I believe that we can reduce the cases. We can reduce the fatalities that arise from this vice and the resulting consequences. To mark this day, Cynthia Untamed chooses to celebrate Natalie Robi, a young Kenyan who is the defying odds to ensure that young women in her community are not circumcised. She tells a story of triumph and possibility.
CYNTHIA: What is your personal and professional background?
NATALIE: I am 25 years old, have been a Human Rights Activist with a great passion to End FGM for close to six years now; a role influenced growing up in my community of Kuria with one of the highest FGM prevalence rates at 80% which means up to 8 in 10 girls as young as 8 years are always at risk of undergoing circumcision every single circumcision ceremony.
In Kenya today 2.5 million women and girls have undergone female genital mutilation these are my friends, aunties, girls from my community. These numbers aren’t just statistics they are dreams, leaders and change makers. I am grounded on the principle that every life is precious; every girl deserves a fair start at life to realize her full potential from birth to adulthood; for most girls FGM cut it short.
I am an Economist by profession with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Moi University. I have been honoured to receive recognition both in Kenya and internationally; Named Top 40 Under 40 women in Kenya 2017, awarded the Zuri Award 2017 International Women’s Day Leadership Award and a Keynote speaker at the Closing Plenary of the first ever Global Festival for Ideas on Sustainable Development Goals in Bonn, Germany. I am an alumna of 9th Ewha Global Empowerment Program 2016, a prestigious program that recognizes outstanding women across Asia and Africa in their contribution for women’s empowerment and also She by Spark* International 2016 Kenyan Change Maker. In 2016, I was named as one of the Emerging Innovators in East Africa by Ashoka Change Makers. I am a Youth Power advocate on the Sustainable Development Goals with Restless Development and a 2017/2018 Vital Voices Global fellow too .Currently, I am spearheading the @saving_her_clitoris social advocacy platform on Instagram by calling on action end genital mutilation/cutting.
CYNTHIA: Which organizations have you worked with in ending Female Genital Mutilation?
NATALIE: I founded Msichana Empowerment Kuria, a young women-led grassroots organization that now actively works to end Female Genital Mutilation in my community. We innovate sustainable solutions to realize social change to End Female Genital Mutilation, other forms of violence against women and girls and access to rights, inspire youth action through volunteerism, advocacy and grassroots movement building and influence policy and practices by participating in national, regional and international global advocacy.
CYNTHIA: In your opinion/experience, what is the best way to end Gender based violence and early child marriage?
NATALIE: Ending some forms of Gender based violence in this case Female Genital Mutilation entails working through multiple channels; one way that is continuing to prove its efficiency is non-judgmental community dialogues, by leveraging on a community’s social dynamics to change FGM as a social convention norm.
CYNTHIA: Finally, how did you commemorate the International Day to End FGM?
NATALIE: I am honoured to have received an invite by Orchid Project to attend a series of core events in London where I will be sharing our work at the community, the incredible movement that is happening back at home and rallying for support of grassroots groups.
Beginning February 6th– 8th my team at Msichana Empowerment Kuria will be attending the first National Conference on FGM organized by Anti-FGM Board at the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development.
Post the International Day to End FGM we will host our annual End FGM community champions celebrations; an event that we facilitate community dialogue, highlight and celebrate the positive stories of change happening in our community to strengthen the End FGM movement.