Kenyan Characters


by Cynthia Vukets on August 26, 2009


Maryam at her Population Council office in Nairobi

Maryam at her Population Council office in Nairobi

Name: Maryam sheik Abdi

Hometown: Garissa, Northeastern Province

Profession: Community activist

When Maryam, a Somali Muslim girl from a small village in Northern Kenya, went to university in Eldoret, she tells me she had her faith profoundly shaken. She was “cut” at the age of six, a tradition she thought was the norm for all good Muslim girls. When she met Muslim women from other parts of Kenya at university, she was shocked to find they hadn’t been cut.

That day she began to question a practice she had accepted all her life. Eventually she decided to dedicate her career to fighting female genital mutilation.

“In my own small little way I started a campaign to convince people. My family of course was the hardest and that’s the biggest hurdle to this day. They think I’m just wasting my time,” she says. Both of her sisters have assured her they won’t cut their daughters (Maryam has one child – a son) and she hopes they’ll stand by that decision.

Maryam works with Population Council as a program officer. She runs community trainings and discussion in her home province on FGM. She says so far, the best way to fight the practice is through Islam. Religion is often used to support the practice, but she says: “It has nothing to do with Islam. FGM absolutely violates Islamic teachings on the sanctity of the human body and the rights of women.”

So she has found the best way to fight FGM is using the same tools that have supported it for centuries – Islamic teachings.

Other religions and communities in Kenya and around the world practice FGM. In Kenya, one-third of women between the ages of 15 and 49 have been cut. But Maryam’s job is to focus on the girls, mothers and elders in her own community.

For more info, visit the Population Council’s site at