Koota Injena

Koota Injena training

Can community dialogue be used to end FGM and child marriage?

Samburu and Marsabit Counties in Kenya are home to several pastoralist tribes, among them the Samburu, the Borana, the Rendille and the Gabra. These tribes are distinct in language and customs, but one similarity they share is that they continue to practice Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) and Child, Early and Forced Marriages (CEFM) despite Kenyan laws outlawing both in 2001.

An average of 76% of women across these tribes underwent FGM/C and 70% were married before they were 18. Each tribe is led by elders who make the decisions for the rest of their community and play a crucial role in maintaining these harmful practices.

The practices are linked; when a girl (typically between 8-15 years old) undergoes FGM/C, she is considered ready to be married off, often to a much older man and is expected to drop out of school once she is married.

Through funding from USAID and our donors, we created Koota Injena — which translates to “Come let us talk” in the Borana language — where we promote the use of community dialogues to end FGM/C and CEFM in 40 communities who identify as Samburu, Borana, Rendille and Gabra in Samburu County and Marsabit County

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Through Koota Injena, we identify “champions” (male or female from any age group) in the community who are willing to stand up against FGM/C and CEFM and provide them with training to help their peers, family, and friends re-envision how women and girls are treated, why their rights should be respected, and why they should finish their education. In addition, we educate champions on the consequences of FGM/C and CEFM and teach them techniques to hold productive discussions between different groups and generations who might have opposing views. One of the innovative approaches of Koota Injena is to directly engage elders and to educate them on the negative effects FGM/C and CEFM have on their communities and ensure that the abandonment of these practices is upheld.

An elder in a discussion with another man

In its second year, Koota Injena achieved the following:

  • 456 elders committed to abandoning FGM/C in their communities

  • 666 elders committed to ending CEFM in their communities

  • 72% of male elders and 100% of women who participated in community dialogues reported an improved perception that girls and women should be equally valued as boys and men, especially in the areas of enjoying individual rights, access to education, and decision making in communal activities

  • 92% of male youth who participated committed to safeguarding their community from CEFM and 87% committed to protect their community from FGM/C

  • 52 Community Health Workers were trained on handling cases of Gender Based Violence

  • 29 girls were rescued and protected from FGM/C and CEFM

To further support the girls in these communities, we established a scholarship program to send girls at risk to or are survivors of FGM/C and CEFM to secondary boarding school and train them to become anti-FGM and anti-child marriage ambassadors. The scholarship provides each girl with:
  • Annual school fees (including room and board)

  • Scholastic materials such as textbooks, uniforms, beddings and mattress, and other boarding school necessities defined by the school itself)

  • One “Dignity Kit” to help girls feel their best at school that contains sanitary pads, underwear, soap, a toothbrush and other hygienic items

Through the scholarship, the girls also receive training on life skills (which UNICEF defines as problem solving, critical thinking, effective communication skills, decision-making, creative thinking, interpersonal relationship skills, self-awareness building skills, empathy, and coping with stress and emotions), reproductive health education, advocacy and public speaking skills to help them convince their families and peers to abandon FGM/C and CEFM, and are mentored by Koota Injena staff on a regular basis.

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