One woman’s quest for leadership
Maka Kassim, a 39-year-old woman in Garissa county is leading the campaign against Female Genital Mutilation in her village. In order to firm up her efforts, Kassim is now vying for the position of an assistant chief in Kamuthe Sub-location
By Lilian Kaivilu
The world marks the International Women’s Day today. The campaign for the annual event is themed ‘Be Bold For Change’. This is exactly what one woman in Kamuthe village, Garissa County is doing. Maka Kassim is fearless and bold about matters affecting women and children in her community.
She is small bodied and swift. She is visibly in charge. On the day we arrive at Kamuthe village in Garissa county, she moves to usher us in. The area cultural elders, members of the Kamuthe Women Group and young girls who have escaped Female Genital Mutilation are forced to pause their meeting to allow Kassim to welcome us.
Just before our arrival, the 39-year-old was in the middle of a meeting with the village elders and other members of the community. She is the chairperson of the Kamuthe Women Network, a group she formed in 2013 to eradicate Female Genital Mutilation and early marriages among girls in the area.
Later after she has addressed the meeting, Kassim tells us that it is uncultural for a woman to stand and address men in most Somali homes. “You are viewed as headstrong and uncultured,” she says. But what gives her the confidence to stand not only before the elders but also address FGM-a topic deemed taboo in this community? “I was a victim. My children suffered the pain of the knife. These women you see here were victims. In fact, we are still trying to convince some of them to change their mindset.” She interjects: “And I have read the Constitution.”
Kassim works from house to house. She has a team of women who work undercover. “It is like the Nyumba Kumi. I appointed them to monitor FGM and early marriages in Nathir,Warable and Kamuthe villages. I work as a volunteer child protection officer.”
Previously, I thought it was wrong not to undergo FGM. Kassim’s first daughter underwent FGM in 1998 when she was about seven year old. “But my sons hit him by mistake when they were playing. The girl bled the whole day,” Kassim narrates. This is when she changed tune on FGM. She adds: “This is when I started questioning the legality of FGM. I talked to a few women but they all said it’s a culture they cannot abandon.”
Her curiosity led her to ask the same question in a public forum held in the village in 2013. “I asked the Sheikh to clarify the allegations made that FGM was a religious practice. He told me it wasn’t a compulsory religious practice. It was just something that we Somali women had accepted in the name of religion,” she says.
This is when Kassim decided to start a campaign against FGM in 2013. From door to door, she tried to woo women into the group. Determined to instill confidence in the women, Kassim often does public speaking skills to these women. “I would ask the women to stage a visit to a home and assume that they are convincing the family members of the dangers of FGM and early marriages. We would then criticize each other. This is how the women have gained confidence to speak about issues affecting girls and fellow women,” she says.
Although she faced some resistance in some of the homes, today Kassim has over 50 women in the group. But not many people would listen to them, especially the men. “Some of them say we are mad and untamed. They said we had defied our religion by standing before men. But we have the support of the local chief and religious leaders.” Kamuthe Women Network comprises of former cutters, victims of FGM and other women in the community. The team meets every Friday.
Who is Maka Kassim
- She was born in Garissa county to nomadic parents
- She is a fourth born out of six children
- She was the first girl in their home to go to school
- She is a mother of six; three boys and three girls
- She has only cut one of her daughters.
- She schooled in Mashabubu Primary before transferring to St Patrick’s primary school Kericho where she completed her primary education in 1992. She scored 530 out of 700 marks in her Kenyan Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination.
- She attended NEP Girls Secondary school
- She has applied for the position of assistant chief in Kamuthe