Kajiado women turn to climate-proof agriculture to fight FGM, early marriages

Peninnah looking after her cows in the field

Kajiado women turn to climate-proof agriculture to fight FGM, early marriages

By Wesley Lang’at

It’s another rainy season at Oloosidan village in Isinya, Kajiado 60km outside Nairobi. Land is gradually recovering from the previous drought; grasses are sprouting turning the bare land green again while shrubs and acacia trees are budding. Peninnah Nasieku Tompo, 60-year-old mother of five, a renowned crusader of anti-FGM and early marriage is looking after her five exotic dairy cows grazing on a paddock field.

Penninah disobeyed the Masai traditions that rate girl child as source of wealth inform of a dowry, a belief that value cows as a measure of wealth status in the society, a factor that vary depending on the rain intensity and the proximity to enough pasture and water.

A survivor of FGM and early marriages, Nasieku formed Nasuru Ntoiye women group in 1992 local organization that strive to ending female genital mutilation and early marriage by empowering women and raising awareness.

“Women also contributed to marry off their daughters at early age, so I formed the organization in order to empower and educate them on dangers of the vice.”

Peninnah looking after her cows in the field
Peninnah looking after her cows in the field

Devastating cycles of droughts push many households to the brink of poverty. As result, many girls drop out schools and later opt for FGM and early marriage as a way of easing families’ economic burden, Peninah reckons. Adding that, during rainy season there are plenty of pastures, many families use all manner of means to restock their herd including marrying off their daughters in exchange of cows.

She thus found a secret of fighting vice and breaking the cycle of poverty by empowering and putting resources in the hands of women in the community. She then brought together women in her village into an organized group and started making beads for sell. “The objective of forming the group was to find an activity that could generate an income for women and we started with beads making” She explained. Adding that the proceeds they got from the sales of beads enabled them to submit a monthly contribution of Sh200 per member.

As the amount of saving gradually increased, Tompo says that they came up with another business opportunity of growing and selling fodder thus helped them generate more money for the group members and sustained the group.

In this community that overly depends on livestock for their income, constant and severe drought threatens their livelihoods because many of their animals succumb to drought. But Penninah’s women group found a chance to mitigate adverse impacts of pasture scarcity by growing fodder.

Tompo displays some of her trophies she won out of her Anti FGM Activism.
Tompo displays some of her trophies she won out of her Anti FGM Activism.

From their saving, they bought fodder seeds for the group and each member was given a 5kg packets of fodder at Sh600 which was enough to plant an acre farm. After three months, the women were harvesting 100-200 bales of fodder which retailed at Ksh.200-300 and part of the money were ploughed back into the women’s group account.

“As women, we are mostly affected by droughts; more than 50 women each harvested over a hundred fodder bales that helps us feed our animals as well as selling  them especially during drought seasons” She commented.

As their beads and fodder businesses  continues to yield more returns into the group, women got motivated and kept on meeting every month to discuss more viable income generating opportunities this is when  they started a merry-go-round of buying a dairy cow for each member. This could help address the issue of milk shortages in their villages.

“The proceeds we get from the sales of milk and fodder 20 per cent goes back to members the rest we used to help girls, buy uniforms and pay school fees.”

According to Masai cultural traditions, only men own cows and during droughts they migrate with their cattle several kilometres away from home in search of pastures and water. By introducing dairy farming and fodder preparation to women in her village, Peninah lead the way to new brave world.

“As women in the village we started keeping dairy cows, making fodder and beads work.” She explained. “We also formed marketing cooperatives for our milk and beads to enable us sell our produce more easily,” she added.

When they introduced dairy cows, their husbands regarded it as “women cows”, worthless and didn’t bothered them as it was different from their indigenous cattle which they are so attached to therefore separated from the rest of the cattle.

“After a year, my cows started giving us milk continuously that is when he started appreciating and he added me more space for fodder and grazing” Nasieku narrated jovially.

Strong cultural norms in which girls who undergo the cut fetch higher bride prices than those who don’t, exert pressure on girls within the households. Agnes Leina, the director of the Kenya A nti-FGM Board,  a semi- autonomous government agency, explains that FGM and early marriage are an emotive issues stemming from the cycle of poverty perpetrated by endless.

Agnes says a father would tell her daughter: “As your father, would you like me to go sit with elders under the tree or not? I have no voice because I am a poor man, very shameful, I have no cows”

As climate change bites, taking toll on livestock, more and more girls get into greater risk of both child marriage and FGM.

“During the drought most cows would die, the man comes home with a stick and tells his family, all the cows have died. Turning to her daughter she would ask: Do you like the fact that your mother come out to milk nothing or brought milk with a cup by another woman?” said Leina.

Moses Masai, a 45-year-old man from Sholinke in Kajiado county says most men have come to appreciate the education of girls.

“Unlike before, nowadays the society has changed, they value education for girls.” He explained: “We don’t force our daughters; they make their own choices.” Moses insisted education as a priority.

Agnes explained that ,previously many men preferred marrying off her daughters in exchange of cows, a practices that has changed and men like Moses has accepted the change.

Jane Maloi, a 23-year-old survivor, was rescued at the age of 13 years. She now holds a diploma in procurement from Kenya Institute of Management. She is the breadwinner of her family and thanks Agnes Laina for saving her.

Despite the decline in the prevalence of FGM, The Kenya Demographic and health survey of 2014 indicates that the practice is still higher within the communities such as Somali ( 94 per cent), Samburu ( 86 per cent) Kisii-84 per cent  and Maasai (78 per cent) respectively. The Anti-FGM board director says the government has made substantial progress in fighting vice.

The Kenya Demographic and health survey of 2014 (KDHS) shows  that  21 per cent  of women and girls aged between 15-19 years in Kenya have undergone FGM. The prevalence of FGM varies widely across regions and ethnic communities. Despite the national decline in the prevalence of FGM, it is still higher within the communities such as Somali ( 94 per cent), Samburu ( 86 per cent) Kisii-84 per cent  and Maasai (78 per cent),” read The Policy for the eradication of female genital mutilation(FGM) Kajiado County.

“The Anti-FGM board has been coordinating public awareness through community dialogue and designing alternative rites of passage programmes,” she says.

The latest data from the UNICEF shows that as of today, more than 700 million women worldwide got married as children. And some 250 million or one in three women were married before the age of 15. In many parts of Africa, climate change is rapidly making natural resources very scarce and women and girls remain vulnerable to all forms of gender-based violence.

Ademola Olajide, United Nation Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA),  Kenya’s country representative, says there is a significant progress in improving the lot of women and girls.

He adds that the recently concluded “Global multi-stakeholders summit ICPD+25 in Nairobi presented an opportunity for African governments to fully fast track the commitment to ending early marriage and FGM.


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