Fatuma Abdulkadir Adan, a Kenyan woman from a Northern town called Marsabit, is changing the lives of young women through football (or soccer for those in the U.S.). The lawyer and activist has taken the sport to another level, using it to empower women and educate communities to stop practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM).
In 2003, Adan founded the Horn of Africa Development Initiative (HODI), which has grown to change the lives of both young men and women. By actively working with communities rather than telling them how to operate, she has created change in cultural expectations.
But this change has not come without challenges. When she started a girl’s football team in Marsabit, Adan said she was “physically stoned and literally kicked out of the pitch.” Soon after, 8 of the 12 young girls on her team were kidnapped and forced into young marriage. Through her perseverance and personal strength, Adan kept working, and slowly but surely the results have begun to show.
Her program, which she called “Breaking The Silence,” has generated an increase of education regarding child marriage and FGM. It has also led to 1,645 girls from 152 villages in the Marsabit region playing football since its establishment in 2013. Through football, Adan has given children a voice and a power that they previously could not find within their communities.
Adan told the BBC, “Before it was a cool thing for a 13 or 12-year-old girl to be married. Today, if you marry off a 13-year old, the girls in the class will complain, as will the boys.”
After joining the team, young girls in school have improved in their classes, finding their own ability and strength to participate on a level that was once solely occupied by boys. Adan recognizes that change does not come from only the empowerment of women and girls, but also young boys and men as well.
“Boys are too often not part of the conversation” Adan posted on the Global Giving website. “At HODI, we use football as a tool to break the silence on FGM in Marsabit, northern Kenya.”
Her work against the cultural practice of FGM is heavily based on education of children, women, and men. Adan recognizes how difficult this change will be through her own experiences with FGM in Marsabit.
In the same blog post, Adan speaks on the taboo surrounding FGM, also referred to as ‘the cut’ or ‘cutting.’
“Until recently, we called it Qaban Qaba, which means ‘holding down’ or ‘pinning down,’” she writes. “FGM is sacred back home. FGM is not openly discussed back home; mentioning the cut makes people very uncomfortable.”
Adan was held down by her own mother and cut as a child, though she does not blame her. According to Adan, her mother believed that “she removed a part of me that was considered dirty; that she thought would turn me into a woman with loose morals if it remained.”
Adan sees this experience as reflective of what many young girls undergo. The ingrained cultural norms make women suffer from a practice that has no medical benefits and extreme physical risks.
Many are completely unaware that the Anti-FGM Law of 2011 exists, much less see it as applicable within their communities. Adan recognizes that some see it as officials seeking to stop their culture. However, through her work with communities and HODI, Adan is changing the conversation.
“I took one step at a time to win hearts and minds” Adan writes. “Unless there is dialogue in every home, in every village, the monster of FGM and gender-based violence will continue to haunt us.”
“I have one daughter, and I will not cut her because she was born perfect.”
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