Pastoralist Girls Initiative, Kenya
The Pastoralist Girls Initiative was established in 2001 by a group of Somali women and girls from a pastoralist community in Garissa in Northeastern Kenya, a district that is highly vulnerable to drought and famine. The community is very patriarchal, women are not expected to participate in public spaces and rarely hold decision-making positions within local government, schools, or health facilities. Girls can face female genital mutilation and sexual violence, they are often denied the right to education, and are married early, often to boost family incomes. A little over ten percent of girls go to school.
‘In our community people strongly believe that a girl’s place is in the home, not in school. All girls need to know is how to take care of a husband. So as soon as girls are circumcised, and this happens when they are still very young, they are ready to get married. This usually means the end of their education’, says Fatuma Kinsi Abbas, founder and director of the Pastoralist Girls Initiative. The organisation uses a variety of methods to keep girls in school. Fatuma: ‘Education is key. Women’s health, leadership and reproductive rights, they all hinge on education. If you neglect education, women’s health suffers and leadership is not developed’.
Also practical matters are important. Fatuma: ‘If a school doesn’t have toilets at all or where there is no adequate water supply, girls are affected much more than boys. You’ll see girls leaving school at midday to relieve themselves, resulting in missed lessons and poorer grades. It looks like a small thing, but getting the right kind of toilets brings change.’
One of PGI’s biggest successes is its school club programme, called Girls Forum. The Girls Forum provides a friendly environment to girls to meet, learn their rights and build their self confidence. They are encouraged to speak up and express themselves. They also receive support in overcoming both personal and collective obstacles. They talk about issues like sexuality, reproductive health rights and what leadership means.
The Girl’s Forum started as a small scale, local initiative, but now it reaches out to approximately 7,000 girls in primary schools throughout the region.
The organisation is also working to increase the number of women teachers in primary and secondary schools. In 2009, they established the first-ever girls’ secondary school in the town of Fafi, enrolling about 100 students.
While the Pastoralist Girls’ Initiative is focusing on access to education for girls, it also works on issues like domestic violence and female genital mutilation. And it organises workshops on the law against violence against women. Fatuma: ‘The law exists, but people don’t know about it.’
In 2011, the Pastoralist Girls Initiative organised civic education to help people understand and vote on a referendum for Kenya’s new constitution, which includes a quota for 30% of all leaders to be women. In collaboration with the Kenya Women Parliamentary Committee they made sure that the Girls’ Forums reviewed the ‘National Plan of Action’ to see that girls’ rights were taken into account, and are monitoring the implementation at local levels.
The Pastoralist Girls Initiative received grants from Mama Cash in 2009 and 2011.