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What media should do in the fight against FGM 0

Last year the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) and The Guardian newspaper launched the Efua Dorkenoo Pan African Award for Journalists reporting on FGM across the African continent.

The award – in the words of the UNFPA – “is intended to increase media awareness and engagement on FGM within community, national and regional media outlets and recognize and encourage outstanding efforts of journalists throughout Africa.”

The first edition of the Award went this year to Kenyan journalist Diana Kendi for her reportage, made with colleague Jane Gatwiri, The Bondage of Culture, which is about five young women who sought to flee FGM in West Pokot, Kenya.

The third of six children, Diana Kendi, from the Luhya community in Western Kenya, says how she is privileged coming from a community that doesn’t practice FGM. Overwhelmed by the award, which she received last week in Abuja, Nigeria, Diana underlines the importance of this recognition not only for her but also for all the women in Kenya who live and fight within and outside FGM practicing communities: “This award has really encouraged me to work an extra mile together with the other anti-FGM campaigners. It was important to ensure that the agenda has been set especially in the communities that still practice Female Genital Mutilation, so that our girls can be free from the bondage of culture.”

Diana started dreaming to become a journalist at 11. Though facing many challenges in her life, she managed with courage, humbleness and strength to pursue her dream. In this conversation Diana reflects on the role of media covering news on FGM, urging every country to have more engaged media and more willing FGM practicing communities to share their stories so that the information is widely spread, understood and shared.

VALENTINA MMAKA: You’re a young journalist and you have achieved so far this important recognition for standing alongside those who wants to eradicate FGM. Did you always want to be a journalist? How did you start your career?

DIANA KENDI: My dream to become a journalist started way back in 1997 when I was 11. I used to admire how journalists had a privilege to report on what’s happening, how it’s happening, to whom and with who, to a large number of people through media. But my dream was somehow cut short in 2002. I couldn’t continue with my secondary education in Form Three, due to unavoidable circumstances. I stayed out of school for seven years. I am a talented hairdresser, I plait women’s hair, so during that time I used to do plaiting work but not in a specific location. I used to walk from one house to another whenever they called me. In August 2008, I heard in a local radio station that one could be able to register for Kenya Certificate for Secondary Education Examination as a private candidate. At that time I was so desperate, I needed to achieve my dream but couldn’t do so because I didn’t have the KCSE certificate to enable me join any college. I shared the information with my father, who advised me that August was very late since the exams were to start in October. We then agreed to register for the exams in 2009 so that I could have enough time to prepare and at least get a good grade. But to attain that, I needed some coaching, so I identified an Adult Education Centre, registered as a student and later on registered for the KCSE. In that center, we used to study for four hours a day, Monday to Friday. It was such a challenge since I had only one year to read and understand Form Three and Form Four work which I had not done in high school. I thank God because I attained a grade that would enable me to study journalism though at a very low level at the time. In 2010, I enrolled for Film and Video Programmes Production a one-year program and later graduated in December 2011, with a Certificate in Film and Video Programs. I later joined Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, KBC, for my industrial attachment as a Studio Technical Operator, from October 2011 – December 2011. In March 2012, I secured a job at QTV of Nation Media Group as a Production Assistant, and then started doing reporting work in July 2012 to date. Journalism has always been my dream, and Iam happy that by God’s grace I was able to achieve that despite the challenges.

VALENTINA MMAKA: Internationally, media never portray FGM in a non-judgmental inclusive way; there’s no public dialogue about it. There’s no space for interaction and dialogue. It comes under the spotlight just when something bad happens. How do you think global media should engage and commit to make FGM a speakable issue?

DIANA KENDI: All that is needed by the global media is highlighting the stories of girls who have been affected by FGM again and again, using experts to speak about the negative effects brought about by FGM. The more they highlight such stories, the more the information is passed across and the more likely that the practice will be abandoned..

VALENTINA MMAKA: How are Kenyan media engaged on this issue? And, on a larger scale, African media if you are aware? Is FGM covered enough? What should be improved according to you?

DIANA KENDI: Just as you mentioned earlier, both local and international media have been highlighting the FGM issue when something bad has happened. Some people feel that it has been over-reported with no new angle to the story on FGM. But I feel that the local media especially vernacular radio stations should be vocal about FGM and its dangers, especially in the communities where the practice is still rampant, by having talk shows on such issues, inviting the survivors and the anti-FGM campaigners, etc. Media has power to set the agenda in those communities and even make things happen, but again the locals, especially the survivors must be willing to share the information with the media. Were it not for the three girls who survived the cut, and the other two who were mutilated, together with the reformed circumciser and some of the locals sharing their story in West Pokot, we wouldn’t have highlighted the story. But they gave us their story, what they went through and what they are doing to shun the practice, that’s how we came up with ‘The Bondage of Culture in West Pokot’.

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by Valentina A. Mmaka

Photo Credits: Getty Images

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi