Kenya: Female Vigilante Group Hunting, Attacking Elderly FGM Surgeons

20 October 2020

78-year-old Rehema Badru has found refuge in Madogo town in Tana River County although she still fears for her life.

Sins of the past have come haunting, as a vigilante group made up of girls who were circumcised in their childhood are out for revenge.

Her house back in the village, was brought down, an attack that she was fortunate to escape because she was away attending a wedding in Bangale that night.

When she got back home, her daughter-in-law told her of a silent revenge mission on course, and she was among those targeted for being a known female genital mutilation (FGM) surgeon.

Source of livelihood

By then, three women known to her, were nursing injuries from assault meted on them by a group of ladies they couldn't identify.

"I visited my sister in hospital in Garissa, she had really been beaten; she told me they almost circumcised her claiming she had ruined their lives," she recounts.

Ms Badru has been an FGM surgeon for the past 32 years, an exercise she borrowed from her mother. This has been her source of livelihood since then. She claims to have circumcised more than 400 girls.

She made good money from the practice until last year when anti-FGM activists stormed villages sensitising women and girls on the dangers of the vice.

Feeling betrayed

Ms Badru says the activists are to blame as the facts they preached left many women and girls in anguish and feeling betrayed.

"They said it was against religion, they told the girls they were suffering as a consequence for undertaking the cut, they incited them," she claims.

Life for her, has not been easy as she has had to flee from one town to another. She now plans to move to Garissa to be with her relatives, where she believes her safety is guaranteed.

"I can't stay here, they will still find me. They are determined to see us out of the villages. I resolved to stop the practice, but who will deal with this quest against us for revenge?" she wonders.

Forceful cut

Ms Badru is not the only one hiding from the fast-growing vigilante group. Husnah Ali, 81, is in hiding in Tana Delta at Minjila town for similar reasons.

Her case is, however, worse as it is being driven by her divorced daughters-in-law, who were her victims at an earlier age.

The daughters-in-law also accuse her for allegedly setting up her grandchildren for forceful cut. She, however, says she carried out the exercise as a mandatory traditional rite for girls their age.

"I did this at the time they were married to my sons, they did not protest then, but now they want to kill me, claiming I made the children disabled," she says.

She has had to relocate to Minjila town where she works as a milk broker and is housed by a well-wisher.

Divorced early

Ms Ali and her host were sceptical when we approached them for an interview, afraid of being exposed.

Rehema Badru and Husnah Ali are among the surgeons on the run from the female vigilante group.

More than 30 surgeons are being targeted by women who feel someone prematurely defined their lives for them.

The movement is mainly made up of ladies who were previously married but got divorced early in life. Some underwent the cut at elderly age and have now mobilised other women to ensure their quest to revenge succeeds.

Yusra Mohamed, 25, a member of the vigilante, in a confidential interview with Nation.africa says the surgeons were responsible for lots of lives ruined and many others lost.

Anti-FGM activist

"Some of our sisters are dying during delivery, some are suffering from fistula, while others are suffering from depression. The government is not doing enough to end FGM, activists cannot do much, so we shall do what we can," she says.

The mother of two says the surgeons, despite receiving the message against FGM, have continued the practice with impunity, with the help of the local administration.

"Chiefs have made this an enterprise, they earn from the surgeons hence, protect them from being arrested, we only have ourselves to put up a fierce fight," she notes.

Sadiya Hussein an anti-FGM activist is, however, opposed to the vigilante noting that it is pushing a good agenda but the wrong way - it is marred with violence.

"They are supposed to arrest and take them to the relevant authorities, not hunt them like wild animals; that is against human rights," she says.

Revenge mission

Ms Sadiya notes that the war against FGM in the region has yielded positive response. She says that as much as activism was making an impact, the community needs to be trained on how to forgive and move on in the spirit of togetherness.

"We still need these elderly women as our ambassadors, hunting them down for revenge creates fear," she said.

Tana River County Commander Fredrick Ochieng' says the police are unaware of the developments, but promises to expedite an investigation into the emerging group to rescue the elderly women.

"The old women need training not to be brutalised and killed; the vigilante group needs to stop the brutality and resort to better channels to solve their grievances peacefully," he says.

Meanwhile, the elderly women have become nomads on the land where they were born and are on the run to seek refuge in other towns.

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