For the past four months, I have served as a Lombard Fellow at the Africa Coordinating Centre for the Abandonment of Female Genital Cutting/Mutilation (ACCAF), a research and capacity building centre based at the University of Nairobi in Kenya. As a transdisciplinary centre, the ACCAF conducts research, implements interventions, and monitors progress in acceleration of efforts towards abandonment of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and improvement of care for women and children suffering negative consequences of this practice.
The Lombard Fellowship allows me to explore my interest in the issues related to female circumcision through engaging in research, training communities and stakeholders, and learning about the different programs being carried out across the region. Furthermore, working in a university setting enables me to interact with scholars from different disciplines, thus exposing me to diverse perspectives on FGM/C. The fellowship has also presented opportunities for learning new research methodologies. Given the practicality required when combining research with advocacy, the centre merges epidemiological research strategies with ethnographic research. I also look forward to using applied anthropological techniques to investigate the different attitudes that FGM/C-practicing communities have towards the practice. Apart from the research, the fellowship has also pushed me to imagine ways, in which digital media can be used to disseminate information about the practice. Currently, Kenya and other global actors are carrying out a concerted campaign to discourage the female circumcision. The Lombard Fellowship has allowed me to partake in the ongoing movement through participating in various events within the country, and curating a news and opinion blog on FGM/C in Africa.
My fellowship continues to widen my knowledge on FGM/C. For example, we noted in one of our target communities that married women, who had remained uncircumcised before marriage, are now undergoing FGM/C. The trend was revealed to be a consequence of ethnic clashes within the area – older women are now undergoing FGM/C in order to cement their ethnic loyalties and those of their husbands. As a result of this development, men are now even encouraging their wives to get circumcised. In fact, one of the men I met during a community-training workshop declared that he intended to have his wife undergo FGM/C so that he would be able to host circumcised boys. Such experiences push us to consider the context within which FGM/C is carried out in particular communities so as to effectively advise them against the practice.
As I continue with my fellowship, I am excited to enhance my understanding of FGM/C and to be a part of a generation championing for the rights of women and girls. I also hope to partake in African-led research documenting the changes that are taking place around FGM/C practice, along with the impact of intervention efforts to discourage it. I am very grateful for the Lombard Fellowship. Many of my Kenyan peers often envy the opportunities that Dartmouth College has allowed me to access even after graduation. Indeed, I feel blessed to be a Lombard fellow and to have the freedom to pursue a topic of personal interest through public service.
Read Miriam’s article she wrote for The Guardian on her personal experience with female circumcision: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/feb/06/female-genital-mutilation-kenya-international-zero-day-of-tolerance-fgm?CMP=share_btn_tw