#HeForShe – Meet anti-FGM activist Tony on why men must take a role in combatting violence against women and girls

International Women’s Day is 8th March. This day represents a time to come together to celebrate the achievements of women worldwide but to also remind ourselves of the fact that that there is much more that needs to be done to protect, enforce and encourage women’s rights locally, nationally and internationally.

One particular issue which affects millions of women and girls worldwide is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). According to UNICEF (2016), more than 200 million women and girls in the world today have been cut across Africa, the Middle East on Asia. This is a serious issue with devastating permanent consequences.

In a previous blog I outlined the risks associated with and the myths behind FGM. Here, I want to highlight how men must engage in the fight against FGM. FGM stems from sexist, patriarchal norms around modesty, sexuality and social freedom. To end this struggle, boys and men have to engage in the struggle and say enough is enough.

With this is mind, I’d like to introduce Tony Mwebia an online and off-line advocate primarily focussed on ending Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and other harmful cultural practices. In his online campaigns he mainly focuses on rallying policy makers, NGOs and government agencies to engage more men in the fight against FGM as he strongly believes engaging males will help catalyse this fight. Offline he engages men and boys through dialogues and discussions aimed at changing their perceptions and attitudes towards this harmful cultural practice. Here’s his story.

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Discovering FGM: Where it all started

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Image credit: MONUSCO (CC BY-SA 2.0)

You may be shocked to know back in 2012 I had no idea about FGM. It was all by coincidence, while volunteering with an organisation dealing with urban refugees in Nairobi, that I was given a chance to work as a project assistant on an FGM project. My turning point was when one Somalian refugee narrated how he lost his wife and baby due to complications related to FGM.

I then realised that men also had many stories about FGM but they rarely shared them. Men were living with spouses who had suffered fistula, whilst the economic burden that comes with frequent hospital visits due to complications was also heavy. I was shocked to learn how men could not enjoy sex with their loved ones and that they instead opted to look for women from other tribes who had not undergone FGM. This then became the start of my #MenENDFGM online campaign.

FGM in Kenya: The figures speak the real truth

In Kenya FGM is illegal under the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act (October 2011) which sets out several offences and punishments for offenders. The national prevalence of FGM according to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) (2014) stands at 21%. Despite this figure though, the reality on the ground is entirely different. The rate of FGM can be as high as:

  • 94 % within Somali communities
  • 86% among the Samburu population
  • 84% among Kisii tribes
  • 78 % among Maasai tribes
  • 31% among the Meru and Embu

This a clearly indication that FGM is still a major issue of concern and is affecting thousands of girls – especially in rural Kenya.

Many communities in Kenya, as in most African societies, are patriarchal in nature. Men yield immense power over numerous aspects of women’s lives as husbands, politicians, religious leaders and key policy/decision makers.

In rural settings where FGM is mostly carried out, men have no idea of what happens during “the cut”. They are not allowed to attend the ceremony which is kept solely for women. This creates a big gap in the fight against FGM as most men are made to believe FGM is just a rite of passage meant to beautify and prepare girls for marriage. This calls for massive sensitisation and engagement of boys and men in dialogues to clearly enlighten them and bring them to speed with the actual repercussions of FGM.

Bringing an end to “the cut”: Where do we go from here?

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Image credit: DfID (CC BY 2.0)

Informed men can easily influence policies and decisions right from the family level up to national and international levels on issues such as FGM. If all men said no to FGM today, then our work would be decrease greatly as this practice would reduce to insignificant levels all over the communities where it is currently practiced.

Remember: most – if not all – of the reasons behind FGM point directly or indirectly to increasing marriageability of local girls. So who are the potential husbands? What if they said they will not marry girls who’ve been “cut”? In doing this though we need to be careful not to discriminate against women and girls who have already been cut as most of them are either forced or coerced to undergo FGM.

In conclusion let me say that the estimated 200 million women and girls alive today who have undergone FGM are not just a number. This figure represents the millions of women and girls who were born perfect but have instead been subjected to a lifetime of suffering due to having been forced to undergo this prolific harmful cultural practice.

This number is also a rallying call to humanity to join hands in ensuring that no other girl becomes an FGM statistic. Remember: no single individual, gender, community, organization, country, region or religion can end FGM alone.

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tony.jpgTony Mwebia #MenENDFGM is an award winning online and offline activist fighting against FGM and other harmful cultural practices. He is also an active as sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) advocate.

Find out more at tonymwebia.co.ke
Follow Tony on Twitter at @TonyMwebia

 

Credits and acknowledgments

Thank you Tony for your sharing your inspiration and great work with us. All the best with your campaign in the future!

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“I only hire beautiful birds” – Sexism in the British workplace

For those of you in the UK, you may remember hearing a few months back in the news about women being forced to wear high heels at work and one lady being told to go home for refusing to do so. The reality is that whilst we should all be smart (depending on your job!) and dressed respectably for work, wearing high heels does not equate professionalism. Such outdated sexist attitudes towards women are unfortunately still alive. The reality is that women face sexual harassment at work, discrimination in being hired due to their right to maternity leave and earn less than men for the same job. In some sectors such as high end City business firms and politics, women find themselves in a male-dominated sphere. This is the 21st century people, yet this is the shocking reality women in Britain today face:

50%

Shocking isn’t it?! More information on the statistics can be found here. However, I’d like to present some real-life testimony. Here’s the story of Steve*…

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Steve* works for an international business solutions company based in London* and has found that his work environment is very patriarchal. The women in the office face daily regular sexual harassment and bullying. Here’s what the women in his office encounter:

When my female colleagues talk in the office, the men say: “Shhh! Shut up! You’re in a business office – don’t be loud!”. But they’re not loud at all. They are treated like second class citizens and sex objects. On one particular occasion, after a work night out where my colleagues were drinking, one young male colleague named Ryan* got very drunk and couldn’t get home. My colleague Jane* offered for him to sleep on her sofa. The next day at work, she was told that she had “raped him” and that everyone “should watch out for her”. For about two weeks after, whenever she walked into the office, everyone would start “egging” Ryan on saying: “Go on Ryan! Go on Ryan!” She clearly did not find this funny and was not comfortable at all but they carried on bullying her anyway.

On a more day-to-day basis, my male colleagues call our female colleagues “birds” and talk about them in sexual scenarios, describing what they’d do to them sexually. They talk in their male groups but another female colleague can hear. Another male colleague called our colleague Caroline* “bitch” to her face as she wears mini-skirts to work. When Caroline walks in the office, my male colleagues make kissing noises. On another occasion, another colleague Bradley* sat within a small group of male colleagues and compared the breasts of his wife (who works in the office) to those of Jenny*. On this occasion, no women were witness to the conversation. Higher up the ladder, a senior figure in the company also informed the male member of the team that he “only hires beautiful birds” as he likes being in the company of “beautiful women”. One of the women he hired is from overseas and twenty years his junior and married with children. At work he intimidates her. One day he showed her pictures of fully naked women, telling her that he would like to have sex with these types of women. My colleague felt so uncomfortable that she took the following day off work. On a regular basis, he tells us male colleagues how he’d like to have sex with her.

Beyond vocal comments and discussions, at Christmas, Gary* (a married man and father) came back to the office drunk and actually forced himself onto Patricia*, kissing her on the mouth. Patricia did not say anything. She appeared to find this normal but for me: this is not normal.

I feel sorry for all of the women who work with us. In a 20th century working environment, no woman should be treated like that. I’m absolutely shocked by these so-called ‘English gentlemen’. The men I work with have showed their dark side and I have lost all respect towards them. Sexism in the workplace is a big problem and many women are constantly bullied. The women in my office are trapped because they cannot afford to lose their jobs. Action must be taken against these – to be blunt – chavs.

*Names and location have been changed to protect identity. Testimony co-written/edited by Voice of Salam (narrated). Please note: I have presented the testimony of a male witness due to availability of witness testimony. If any women would like to share their stories, please get in touch!

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So, ladies (and men – in reality anyone affected by discrimination in the workplace of any kind): please call out and report such behaviour!

For information and advice in relation to the UK please visit/speak to:

For those of you outside the UK – please seek help. Don’t put up with it! Call it out and get the emotional and legal support you need, deserve and are entitled to.

Credits and acknowledgements:

Thanks go to “Steve” for his time and assistance in providing his testimony. Best wishes go the ladies affected by the issues discussed.

Images:

Pat (Free Images.com) (featured image), graphics: Elizabeth Arif-Fear

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