Students Abigail (L) and Purity (R) in their dormitory in West Pokot, Kenya. Photographer’s Credit Ashley Hamer /ActionAid
Meet Abigail and Purity
These two girls are 14 years old. As you can see they’re friends, they’re from Kongelai in west Pokot, western Kenya.
People sometimes ask me if the people in the images we share at ActionAid are ‘real’ people.
My answer is the people we work with are very real indeed. Sometimes with beautiful names like Abigail and Purity, but very real people facing very real challenges.
Abigail ran away from home when she was 13 when her parents wanted her to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM). She was scared because a girl in the neighbourhood had died from excessive bleeding the day before Abigail was due to be cut. She found safety at an ActionAid-funded safe house. And encouraged her friend Purity, 13, to come there a year later when Purity too was at risk of FGM.
“It wasn’t difficult to make the decision to run away,” Abigail told us. “FGM was just like death because of the bleeding. Then, there are also some of the things that come after it. After FGM, I would get married off and could have complications during child birth. So it is just something that is equal to death for me. “So running away was an easy decision, because if I die on the way, it wouldn’t be any different.”
ActionAid Ireland Strategy Launch
Recently we finalised “Realising Rights for Women and Children: ActionAid Ireland Strategy 2017 – 2021”. As part of that we examined where our work is making the most difference. And how we can build on that work in the coming years.
The positive changes our supporters are helping make happen are very evident in Kongelai, for girls like Abigail and Purity. Incidences of FGM have decreased there by 27% because of ActionAid’s work (funded by Irish Aid and with support from Ireland). We have provided safe shelter such as that Purity and Abigail used, and provided practical help to girls to stay in school.
Looking at our strategy we spoke with the key people communities and with our supporters. We aimed to see what improvements we can bring about in partnership with communities and supporters. ActionAid’s goal is to achieve social justice, gender equality and to eradicate poverty by working with people living in poverty and exclusion. From Ireland, our work is focused primarily in six countries: Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda in Africa and Nepal, Cambodia and Vietnam in Asia.
RTE Radio One Morning Ireland Presenter Dr. Gavin Jennings speaking at the launch of Realising Rights for Women & Girls in Dublin.
Why Women & Children
Women and children are central to our work. We know from our experience that empowering women, helping them overcome the obstacles holding them back, brings transformative changes. Not only for the women themselves, but for the next generations as well. Simply put, women will do everything in their power to make life better for their children, and for their families.
Our work with women over the past five years, funded by Irish Aid and addressing violence against women, has realised real progress. For example Kongelai, west Pokot, Kenya has seen a reduction of 27% in incidences of FGM. That means girls like Abigail and Purity have the opportunity to stay in school, advance their education. And in turn this means they are likely to earn more money than if they left school early. They are less likely to undergo marriage at a young age, with all that goes with child birth at a young age. Because of that, the children those girls go on to have will have a better shot in life, stay in education longer, and have a powerful effect on their own children, their families and future generations.
As a result of the success of the programme, in 2016 ActionAid started a small pilot project working with migrant women in Ireland. Now we are supporting them and to raising their awareness to reject the practice of FGM. Independent research in Ireland in 2016 estimated that up to 2,639 girls in Ireland may be at risk of undergoing FGM.
Dinah Chepkemei Nyorsok from ActionAid Kenya speaking via video link from Kongelai Kenya at the ActionAid Ireland strategy launch.
Women Led Programme Work
Our way of working is women led. Women decide their priorities and ActionAid supports them – with education and training, literacy, numeracy, leadership skills. Essentially to raise awareness of their rights and support women on how to achieve those rights to access services such as education and health cares. We aim to help women tackle the issues that hold women and children back, whether FGM, early marriage, that are depriving them of their rights.
When we know something works, we aim to spread the word and bring that learning to other communities. We link women’s’ groups and expose them to different ideas. Our experience in communities enables us to identify systemic problems and campaign for changes in laws and practices. Taking it a step further, we adopt national and international campaigns to put pressure on governments’ to make the changes needed.
Promoting Women’s and Children’s Rights has been integral to ActionAid Ireland’s work for decades. With support from people in Ireland, we aim to grow and develop the programme 2017 – 2021.
These changes in the lives of girls like Abigail and Purity are only possible thanks to support of generous people in Ireland and thanks to support from Irish Aid and the EU.
We owe it to girls like Abigail and Purity to give them the best chance in life.
Siobhán McGee pictured ahead of the strategy launch in Dublin.