Pokot elder becomes an anti FGM crusader

Anti FGM Board chief executive officer Bernadette Loloju (right) joins reformed circumcisers during a declaration ceremony to denounce Female Genital Mutilation in West Pokot. Inset: William Lopetakou Photos: Diana Kendi
Anti FGM Board chief executive officer Bernadette Loloju (right) joins reformed circumcisers during a declaration ceremony to denounce Female Genital Mutilation in West Pokot. Inset: William Lopetakou Photos: Diana Kendi

Its 10 o’clock in the morning here at  Chepokat village in West Pokot county. The council of elders are busy eating roasted meat, from two bulls which were slaughtered very early in the morning, specifically for a special event set to happen today.  They say that slaughtering a bull in Pokot community doesn’t just come like that, it signifies how big the event is. Today, they are making a declaration to refuse Female Genital Mutilation in West Pokot and that’s why the two bulls have been slaughtered. The meat is only for the elders and young men in the community, women can only consume intestines and other small parts. In fact, they don’t take roasted meat, they are only allowed to carry them raw.

It’s in this declaration ceremony that I meet William Lopetakou, 62, a cultural ambassador in West Pokot County. William Lopetakou is among the leaders in the council of elders here in West Pokot County, and will be among the ones conducting the declaration.

I request to have an interview with him before the declaration ceremony starts, about FGM and how the elders perceive it here in West Pokot. He starts the interview in a very regrettable tone.

“I am the most disadvantaged man because I married more than one wife, because of seeking sexual enjoyment.

William Lopetakou. Photo: Diana Kendi

William Lopetakou. Photo: Diana Kendi

When my first wife reached her menopause, she became a volcano (sic). I just left her and started looking for another one.  I have two wives, how could I just stay like that, when the other one is not able to perform her matrimonial duties? I had to look for an alternative because I didn’t want to move anyhow because of infections from diseases and everything especially HIV/AIDS. So I looked for an honest and respectful wife. You know after a woman has stopped giving birth, she becomes dormant and imperfect. However, I don’t want anyone to follow my footsteps of marrying more than one wife just for sexual fulfilment. FGM reduces women to nothing, they just become an object of child bearing without any enjoyment at all,” William expresses his disappointment.

Changing Tact

Being a father of more than 15 children, Lopetakou started the campaign against FGM 10 years ago, in a place called Lelan, located in West Pokot highlands.

This was after being sensitised about FGM and its effects through trainings organized by World Vision.

He realised that Pokot girls and women had been widely affected by the cut and decided to say no to FGM.

“FGM has really affected our girls and women. Men continue enjoying yet women are suffering day and night especially while giving birth. It has increased cases of Fistula and you know doing repair is really costly. It has also caused stigma to our girls and women”, he laments.

According to him, FGM was brought about by the devil. He believes that no one can correct God. “Why are we undoing what God has already done? We need a declaration to say no to FGM, it’s a disastrous menace in our county. If anyone refuses to listen to what we are saying, then he or she will face the law. Currently we are requesting and begging everyone practicing it to stop, but it will reach a time when we will start cursing them”, he adds authoritatively.

Role Model

Lopetakou is a role model in his community. This is because he never allowed his three daughters to be cut, even when every other man thought that having a girl was a source of wealth. He tells me that his first daughter completed her University studies in 2015, the second daughter has done Diploma course on Early Childhood whereas his third daughter has done Certificate course in Human Resource and management. He is so proud of his three daughters and goes on to tell me that they are all married, and have children, yet they were not cut.

“When a girl is born in a family, the father becomes happy because he is sure of getting the bride wealth. When she reaches 14 years old, she undergoes the cut ready for marriage,” he adds.

Lopetakou is a farmer and also works with a Non Governmental Organisation known as Sikom, which promotes peace across the county borders. He is so proud that many people from his village have abandoned the knife as they say in Pokot Kapsteno Rotwoo and are now working hard to educate their girls for a better future. The Cultural ambassador claims that FGM cases have really reduced in Leland since there are still a few people who are subjecting their girls to the cut.

“My urge to the Pokot community is that, let them not harm their daughters, if they really love them, they should protect and educate them and then leave them the way God created them”, he gives me a parting shot as he rushes back to the declaration venue.

Declaration Ceremony

Photo: Diana Kendi

Photo: Diana Kendi

Back to the event, many people have joined the group, the young and the old, men and women, ready to witness the declaration ceremony.

More than six reformed cutters attended the event to publicly declare that they have abandoned the knife. They vowed never to cut girls again, and instead campaign against FGM, sensitizing and empowering girls, telling them the importance of education. The declaration ceremony brought together council of elders, leaders from the West Pokot county government, led by the Deputy governor Titus Lotee, the Anti FGM Chief Executive Officer Mrs. Bernadette Loloju as well as locals from different locations. The event was organized by the World Vision Organisation in partnership with United Nations for Population Fund, who are eager to end Female Genital Mutilation by providing Alternative Rites of Passage to girls hence empowering them to have a better future.  FGM prevalence in the country stands at 21percent. However, the prevalence is still high in the counties where communities practice FGM. A recent research shows that FGM prevalence in West Pokot is at 76percent. However the leaders and Non Governmental Organisations working on the campaign against FGM believe that if locals combine efforts in the fight against FGM, especially the political leaders, then a lot of people shall shun away from the practice. They do believe that FGM is collective responsibility.