For many children in Kenya, the March 2020 announcement that school was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic led to much celebration. They would not miss the early mornings, boring lessons and endless homework, especially the younger students.
But thousands of girls in Kajiado County do not share in the enthusiasm. For them, this was not just a temporary setback. They do not expect to go back to school because they would soon be married off.
But before that, they will have to undergo a painful rite of passage where their barely mature genitals will be chopped off using unsterilized blades. Many will die at childbirth, because their own bodies were barely developed enough to carry a pregnancy to term.
A relentless monster
For the girl child in Kajiado County, contracting a respiratory virus is the least of her concerns. She is confronting a monster that has plagued her community for dozens of generations. And now, whatever hope she may have had of escaping is dimming.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of reasons why we endeavored to write and publish this anthology.
Evidence-based decision making is at the heart of effective advocacy. Before proposing changes to laws and policies affecting vulnerable populations, one must do the grunt work of research necessary to ensure solutions help the most number of people while remaining efficient and sustainable.
This means that in much of advocacy work, the personal story is seldom heard. Statistics, trends and patterns often rule the day. Sometimes the occasional anecdote may be told to drive home a point, but this is the exception rather than the rule.
The names and faces of teenage pregnancy
Story Zetu was born out of the need to put names and faces to the many lives behind the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights advocacy work of NAYA Kenya. We chose to focus on our work in Kajiado County, where we have actively advocated against teenage pregnancy, female genital mutilation and child marriage.
Kajiado is unique because these three issues co-exist in the Maasai Community as the inseparable trinity of evil facing young women and girls. In this community, you cannot have FGM without child marriage, because the former is the entryway to the latter. And we all know there is no such thing as marriage without a pregnancy. Except in this case, the children are the ones getting pregnant.
Advocates of change
This anthology includes short first person accounts of teenage girls who have been cut, married off and barely escaped marriage. We also feature the accounts of the youth advocates who have committed their lives to eliminating these retrogressive cultural practices in their community.
We conclude with the stories of two elder members of the Maasai Community – A reformed FGM practitioner and a former village elder who are now committed to fighting a practice they once embraced and even championed.
Many of these stories are not to be enjoyed but to be endured. It is our hope that they will inspire hope, evoke empathy, create urgency and move us beyond reflection to action. The publication will also be a critical piece of evidence for informed advocacy and decision making in our future advocacy work.