Leah Ambwaya is a professional evaluator working with Excelsior who is visiting and assessing a number of GlobalGiving projects in Kenya. On June 4th she visited Adolescent Girls' Legal Defense Fund. When asked what she would tell her friends about this project, Leah said: "Incredible: You need to see this!”
On the 4th of June 2009 we visited Equality Now offices in the upper market parts of Nairobi.
As we enter the office we are received by Mary, who exclaims, “you look familiar! Did I meet you in some office that deals with children?”
I quickly realize that when you are a rights activist you can not hide. So I admit. I am no longer working in the same office, but I am still working with children on issues of realizing their rights.
Apparently our host could hear the conversation form the next office. She comes out and introduces herself as Faiza Mohamed. She ushers our team into her office. She is soft spoken but portrays an “ON YOUR MARKS” stature, ready to respond, ready to move. I could only conclude that the issues that she deals with in her cause of duty demand a soldiers’ heart - ready all the time.
This office is striking in a special way, in that there are wall size hangings with messages on women and girls rights. I notice on the wall a message "stop FGM."
Faiza is so passionate about her work, she shares her experience right from inception of the organization and the journey that she has walked in advocating for the rights of women and girls in Africa. Faiza is so proud of her work that she does not dwell on the challenges that she has faced but rather how she has handled them. Words like communities, engagement, pushing, empowering dominate her speech - an indication that she appreciates partnerships. The cases of children in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia where landmark court rulings have been made in favor of girls criss-cross her lips behind a smile of “yes we did it again!” She is truly a marathon runner who has won several gold medals in the Olympics. She says, "Court rulings are not final. We must fight for compensation for these girls, so I have gone back to court for the girl in Ethiopia to be compensated and even given a job. We can’t stop at conviction alone.” This lady is in control of her work, she gives us a VCD to watch. “This is a documentary about all the work that we have done with GG related funds.” She give s us examples of work the organization has done in Uganda. After putting pressure on the government, a law was passed to recognize a woman as a co-owner of the family property. She says that best practices have been recorded in Marakwet, Kenya, where girls took their parents to court. Elsewhere in Narok, the body of a girl was exhumed and the parent charged with murder. In order not to destroy the community cultural fabric, community reconciliation meetings have been held in Narok. She cites the case of Tasaru, a girls' safe house in Narok which is something that can be replicated in other areas where FGM is being practiced. However she laments that although some Governments have been pressured and good laws have been passed, laws enforced in most countries have not changed the mind set, and so they are trying to focus more training for the police and paralegals.
Coalitions have been formed in program areas like Tanzania, and Uganda. In Eritrea, more focus has been put on the youth as the drivers for change. These young people have formed anti-FGM clubs in school. In Zambia, a girl who had been raped sued both the government and the teacher who had raped her. A landmark ruling again was made by the courts in favor of the girl and an award of 14,000 USD equivalents was given to the girl. In the ruling, the ministry of education was ordered to put systems for the protection of girls in schools. This case brought out the responsibility of the state very clearly in Zambia.
Mary spoke of the first case of a girl taken to the African commission in Ethiopia, but she cautions that she can not discuss the case, since it is pending before the African commission.
We inquire on the level of community partnerships, and she is upbeat about it. “For substance in our work, communities must be engaged at all levels. Formations of coalitions in most of the countries have borne a lot of positive fruit. Professionals have given their services pro-bono.” This woman believes in the strength of numbers to be able to achieve results.
After, we talk to Mary Ciuru who is the administration and Liaison officer about her role in achieving the goals of the organization. She upbeat about it, saying, “I have to understand programmes in order to link them with the funds. When my colleagues come back from the field, I must be able to understand the dynamics of community needs and link them to funds and also just to be sure that funds are being put to good use. I must understand why sometimes I have to process a travel arrangement on short notice; all these dynamics dictate that I must understand the work of programs to some level."
As I leave that office, I conclude one thing, this organization has a team of strong willed women, who will stop at nothing in the realization of women and girls rights, and they are a formidable team, they are achievers.
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