KAPCHORWA – Female Genital Mutilation, early forced marriages, Gender-based violence[GBV] and girls dropping out of schools are some of the major challenges that Sebei sub-region girls have to deal with on daily basis.
In Kween district, where most girls are cut, girls and women have no voice or choice; they just accept anything as long as it has come from a man, an elder, clan leader and mother-in-law.
The women/girls cannot be seen or heard and the FGM culture is so deeply rooted that even talking about the issues that affect women and girls is taboo.
And it is for this reason that the REACH [Reproductive Education and Community Health] programme, an NGO that has been since 1996 fighting FGM in Sebei sub-region under a new project supported by UNRA and funded by African Development Bank [AFDB]started football enable girls/women break the silence.
REACH is using football to create a safer space for the girls, where they can discuss some of the issues away from the elders and community.
“We engage young girls to help in breaking the silence on the issues that affect them, where the harmful cultural practices are still undertaken by community members,” says Ms Beatrice Chelangat, the Director-General of the REACG programme.
“The use of football is a statement in itself because girls are not allowed to participate in sports like football, due to cultural restrictions and stereotypes. Therefore, REACH intends to use football as a powerful tool to say NO to restrictions on girls in Sebei sub-region,” Ms. Chelangat adds.
While addressing youth after a football March at Sipi primary school grounds 18 November, Ms Chelangat said the football sessions will be used to help the girls raise their voice and that armed with facts, they will be in a position to make an informed choice in life.
She revealed that through sports, girls are given a safe space to talk about issues like FGM, early forced marriages, GBV and cultural restrictions for women.
Apparently, Ms Joyce Cherukut, 18, says she is happy because she can speak anything at the football/Netball pitch because she is not restricted by the elders, parents and leaders of the clans.
“For me I think football, Netball are giving us spaces to voice out and take right choices and they are the right way for us to speak out our minds when we are gathered as youth without restriction,” said Cherukut.
She explained that REACH is giving out balls for both Netball and Football to be used in breaking the silence on FGM and GBV, conflict, girls/women’s rights and other issues that affect girls and boys.
“We offer them a voice through the development of skills that will help them to progress and beat these challenges and we also use football/Netball sessions to provide girls and boys with equal opportunities to play football on safe spaces, fostering peace through weekly football sessions while showcasing the power of football to the gaps,” said Ms Chelangat.
She explained that at the end of the Match REACH staffs educate participants on human rights and Gender Equality using a number of approaches.
Dr Yeko Arapkisa, a reproductive health specialist under the new project said that FGM can strain the relationship between a girl and her family members who typically are the enforcers of the practice.
He revealed that it can also cause a woman to feel shame throughout her life and make it difficult for her to feel comfortable forming intimate relationships and that as a project they will also enroll girls in Netball and other sports to create more spaces for the girls and women.
Reports from several people across Sebei sub-region indicate that many people believe FGM has religious roots, including those who support and perpetuate the practice; however, it’s basis is predominantly cultural.
The reports add that in most societies in which FGM is practiced, it is a cultural tradition that is an expression of religious tenants — primarily virginity and fidelity but perpetuates violence against Women/girls and REACH is using this message from society to preach the message against FGM and GBV.
And even when is FGM is often performed as a rite of passage and to make girls more “marriageable” REACH says there are other ways of rite to passage that respect the rights of girls/women that can be used but not FGM.
“Change must start with challenging the social norms and beliefs that support FGM practices and the idea that girls and women are unclean and that their full lives and enjoyment are not equal to that of men,” said Ms Chelangat.
Mr Robert Cherop, the deputy director at the REACH programme says that REACH is tackling this complex issue of FGM and GBV through unusual methods: football, Netball and sports and that it is in partnership with youth and women groups to end this.
“We are using the beautiful games as a channel to deliver essential sexual and reproductive health and rights information to young people,” said Mr Cherop at Sipi Primary school playground.
He revealed that football and Netball help participants to relax and feel united and that this is a very good way to get messages across to young people because it is easier for parents in Sebei sub-region to let their child go and play football than to let them go to an awareness session on FGM.
The REACH programme hopes that the young people they will reach through football and netball will be strong voices against the practice in their community and that young girls will no longer simply accept these practices as part of the culture.
“And if they face family pressure, they will know where to go for assistance besides we also believe that the young men we reach will protect their sisters, daughters and nieces from FGM and GBV,” said Ms Chelangat.