image001by Maria Murerwa, delegate to the 57th Commission on the Status of Women from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

I have been very blessed this year to attend this commission on the Status of women (CSW 57) and the Ecumenical women orientation and events.  I am always blown away by the people I meet, the work they do, the energy and the fact that most of the women and men come with a common goal of empowering women. This week, I have attended many great NGOs  Parallel events that have been eye opening and hopeful; however there is a still a lot of work to be done in to end gender based violence. I went to so many events that are worth sharing. I will highlight a few which include, ending female genital Mutilation (FGM/FGC), Ending violence against women in Rwanda, and creating positive masculinity (the men’s storytelling project.) This year, the theme is “Ending all Forms of Violence against Women and Girls.” Violence against women is a form of discrimination and a violation of human rights. It cuts lives short, causes women to be silent and leave in tremendous pain and fear everywhere around the world.

This conference brings together women and men from all corners of the world to the United Nations headquarters in New York for two weeks to address and find solutions for issues that affect women. The same time CSW is happening the Ecumenical women join in forces together with CSW.  Many issues are discussed in hopes to find solid solutions for them. Some of the topics but to mention a few included, ending early child marriage, violence in widowhood, ending impunity of sexual violence, violence against women living with disabilities, violence against rural and indigenous women, Military sexual violence, elimination of female genital mutilation (FGM), mental health communities, violence against clergies in the church, violence against aging women, gendercide and many others.

It is unfortunate that at least one out three women worldwide have faced violence.  Women are here to break the silence and find solutions to end violence against women.  This conference serves as a platform for women to break the patriarchal male centered system that is feed by cultural, social and religious practices that exists in most societies.

I attended two separate parallel events that addressed the issue of female genital mutilation (FGM). According to the world health organization (WHO) FGM “comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” One event was on Anti-FGM legislature in African and local communities’ reactions sponsored by the women’s front Norway. This organization is working with the Nyaturu tribe in Northern central Tanzania (Singida area) where Ms. Chiku Ali, one of the panelists grew up. Ms. Chiku has been working on this issue for so many years now in Singida. The Nyakuru tribe practices the right of passage which includes, FGM, tooth extraction and cutting a mark on the forehead.

There have been many declarations to barn this practice since 1967. One famous declaration was the “Arusha declaration” this was followed by so many campaign. The idea was good, but the practices did not stop. People especially the elderly, continued the practice silently when the government used force to stop FGM. When children who were not mutilated got sick, the people believed that it was a curse from the ancestors because they are angry at the authority for stopping FGM.  Ms.Chiku luckily survived this horrendous practice thanks to her father. A devoted Imam who made “a mistake” (as Ms.Chiku jokingly said) to send his young daughter to boarding school. Young Ali asked her grandmother and mother about this practice and why it was important for her to have it, but their answers did not satisfy her. Ali’s best friend died from an infection cause by FGM. This made Ali so upset that she decided to talk about the issue with her father. Ali did not want to go through what her friend had gone through, and so did her father. And so because her father said didn’t permit it, Ali was safe from FGM .

The second event had powerful speakers whose stories were heart sinking, but yet so hopeful for a future without FGM.  For the second event was on FGM / FGC: how to can faith communities help to end it? Sponsored by Mpanzi, 28 Too many, LWF and Tearfund.  I will focus on an amazing woman who is a survivor of FGM and how she is using her voice to break the silence against this practice in her native land Kisii, Kenya. Ms. Jackie Ogega is a co-founder of Mpanzi , an organization based in Kenya which works to promote peace and development in rural African communities through education, women’s empowerment, health and livelihoods. Ms. Ogega is also an author of a new book called Pervasive violence, which was launched on March 8, 2013. This book is about her story as a survivor of FGM. In her remarks, she highlighted the dangers of this practice to a girl/woman’s health. She is not afraid to share her story because she knows that it can help other women tell their stories and be part of ending FGM for the generations to come. Ms. Ogega believes that in order to end this vicious practice, we need education. She thanked her mother for giving her opportunity to education, which helped her not to make the same chose for her teenage daughter.

I found her story very inspiring especially because she is not embarrassed to say it happened to her. So many women would have been very uncomfortable to even talk about this matter because it is so personal. Well she is not, in fact she acknowledges that FGM/FGC is part of her “identity but it does not hold her back” and knowing her it definitely does not define who she is either. I think that her story will inspire other women to tell their stories and advocated to end it. As the saying goes, “charity begins at home,” Ms.Ogega has started with her own daughter by not allowing this practice to happen to her.

FCM/FGC continues to be a form of violence against women around the world and it is time that we broke the silence and we need to bring both girls boys to speak about this. I was especially moved by speech of Nora Muturi Ms. Ogega’s daughter who reminded us that this practice is not only in Africa but even here in America and it takes many forms. I thought that you will be happy to know that a resolution to “Ending female genital mutilation” was passed as of 2012 by the UN General Assembly. So yeah to that…We all have a story to tell, don’t let anyone tell your story because you are who you are and your story is unique because.