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Meeting Ban Ki Moon!

Posted by Cath Holland on October 31, 2014 at 5:05 PM Comments comments (4)

Privileged to meet Ban Ki Moon yesterday at UNHQ at launch of Guardian and UNFPA global media campaign to end FGM within a generation. The UN Secretary General is passionate and commited to ending this torture. The conference was unanimous in declaring FGM a gross violation of th human rights of the girl child.

Grateful thanks to Maggie O'Kane, Executice director (I think) at Guardian media for inviting Domtila Chesang and I to attend this important event.

It feels that our small but highly effective group in Pokot is finall;y getting recognitionfor our work.

Hopefully this will soon translate into much needed funds to build a rescue centre for girls to escape to and given shelter in case they are at risk of forced genital mutilation and subsequent early marriage.

To date we have empowered around 1000 girls to refuse FGM during our 5 Alternative Rite of Passage ceremonies in central Pokot county.

As we reach out to people in more remote areas where virtually no FGM sentisation has ever taken place we are finding more girls at high risk of FGM which makes our rescue centre needed more urgently.

This website is due for a "facelift"! Bear with us in the meantime.

May I suggest if you haven't already seen the Guardian film "Abandon the Knife", then please google and watch on you tube. It's a great film which demonstrates the model of Alternative Rite of Passage ceremonies that we have created and is proving very successful. 

Please visit Beyond FGM Just Giving if you would like to contribute and help this vital and urgent work. Thanks a million.

news update

Posted by Cath Holland on May 12, 2014 at 6:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Greetings all. 

Unfortunately I am currently unable to access our new website so shall continue with original.

Many thanks to Carly who is going to help improve this site and update with recent pics and video clips.

We are preparing for "Coast to Coast" cycle ride from Morecambe to Bridlington starting 19th June to 23rd. Please visit our  Just Giving page for details and how to donate to this most worthy cause of saving more young girls from this cruel practice.

Thanks a lot to everyone for interest, support, help in any way. 



Posted by Cath Holland on April 3, 2014 at 7:45 PM Comments comments (0)

If you have not already done so please can I recommend that you watch the 2010 award winning Guardian film , "Abandon the Knife"? This gives a wonderful insight into the problems a community faces when trying to tackle such a deeply embedded issue. The film is not graphic and follows the story of 2 young Kenyan girls, Nancy and Gertrude, who are refusing FGM.

Nancy and Gertrude are still very much involved in the fight against FGM within their own Pokot communities and are a great asset and help to us at grassroots level.

The original journalist/film maker, Sara Nason is currently in the process of completing a sequel to Abandon the Knife which she filmed with us last December.

Alternative ceremony 2013

Posted by Cath Holland on April 3, 2014 at 7:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Greetings all and huge apologies for lateness of update, multifarious excuses!

We are trying to build a new website which seems to keep crashing hence back to the old site for now to let everyone know our progrees to date and future plans.

I will post pictures on Face book page whilst awaiting access to new website.

Last December we held our 4th Alternative Rite of Passage (ARP) ceremony in Ortum where we have been working these past 5 or so years with around 200 girls saying NO to FGM. I am delighted to report our 1st ARP in a new more remote village, Lomut,  where there is high prevalence of FGM. This brings the total number of girls saved from FGM to 1000!

We were welcomed with open arms in Lomut. People were so grateful that we came to their village and said they have been waiting for someone to come help stop this awful practice.

I am planning to return to Pokot in September to try to extend our successful programme to another area. I will then go again in December to help with the ARP ceremonies.We are going from strength to strength and are confident of continued success.

Please visit Face book page for details of future activities and how to get involved and please bear with us as we continue to build a new permanent website.

We shall be starting fund raising in earnest any time soon. We have a sponsored Coast to Coast cycle ride planned in June with 12 midwives and friends taking part. Anyone is most welcome to join us but would have to book their own accommodation on the way. Please refer to facebook for more details and anyone feel free to organise a fund raiser however big or small. Every little helps and this is a team effort.

Thanks for reading this, your interest, concern and support in helping to save more girls in Africa from this torture, as Amnesty have declared FGM to be.  This is a global issue that needs to be abolished asap!


3rd. Alternative Rite of Passage ceremony

Posted by Cath Holland on March 23, 2013 at 2:05 PM Comments comments (2)

I returned from Pokot just before last Xmas following our 3rd.hugely successful "Alternative Rite of Passage" (ARP) ceremony.

Over 200 girls participated in a week long camp of seminars, workshops and education on the ill effects of female genital mutilation (FGM) and the importance of remaining at school.

This brings the total no. of girls to have participated in our programme of ARP ceremonies to over 600!

Follow up with the self-help group/C.B.O., Kepsteno Rotwo (abandon the knife), last June, revealed that of these only 6 girls were subsequently subjected to FGM. I should add that was follow up from 2010 and 2011. We are confident of similar success from last years' girls.

Our programme is going from strength to strength with research and training of tribal midwives/circumcisers ongoing.

Wtach this space for pictures and video clips from last December's ARP ceremony.........

Thank you so much to all new members and supporters. I am a firm believer in team work. We could never have achieved what we have, saving over 600 girls from FGM, without each other!

Thanks to all the new offers of help, desperately needed!

Latest news from UK side, a meeting was held between myself, student midwife Ruth Davies and Lancaster M.P. Eric Ollerenshaw who is on the anti FGM all party committee yesterday.

Eric is going to arrange for us to meet Lynne Featherstone, UK international development secretary who is spear-heading efforts to abandon FGM.

We hope for funding to sustain our programme and to intensify throughout Pokot and beyond.

Thanks everyone, Cath

410 girls saved from FGM!

Posted by Cath Holland on September 10, 2012 at 6:40 PM Comments comments (0)

My most recent visit to Pokot, Kenya was in June earlier this year. I and midwifery student Ruth (university of Cumbria) spent a day with members of "Kepsteno Rotwo" (abandon the knife in Pokot language), the self help group who are mobilising their community to abandon this awful practice. Group members comprise largely Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) some of whom were also circumcisers in the past but because of our awareness raising campaign have now abandoned the practice.

We had requested follow-up of the girls for monitoring and evaluation of our efforts thus far. We were informed by the group that altogether over the last 2 years 414 girls participated in our "Alternative Rite of Passage" (ARP) ceremonies. Of these only 4 girls were subsequently subjected to FGM. The majority of the girls are still at school and some even attending secondary school. One girl in particular, Nancy who attended the first ARP and features in the Guardian film is now in secondary school and is a good role model for the younger girls.

Miriam, Matron of Ortum Mission hospital in Pokot, reported that there had been no acute admissions at the hospital this year related to FGM.

All the group members agree that FGM is definitely on the wane.

Mary, the Chairlady, reported on the support of the District Commissioner. He has recognised and supported the group and requested that they represent the county on the issue of FGM. He sees FGM as relevant to many other issues dropout, early/forced marriage, early childbearing and overall lack of development. He has asked the group to work with the Children's Rights Officer.

We are now fund raising again in earnest for this year's ARP in December. This is traditionally the danger time for FGM.

A sponsored walk is planned, a triathlon and a comedy night in November (fingers crossed the comedian comes up trumps! No it's not Mr. Methane!)

If anyone fancies doing some fun d raising that would be greatly appreciated. We can all play a part in making the world a better place without the horror of FGM! It's great to be involved in something so worthwhile that is having such a positive effect. This is very much a team effort and thanks to everyone who is supporting that effort.

Lastly if you have not already watched the Guardian film, "Abandon the Knife" (also entitled "I will never be cut"), then may I recommend doing so. It is an inspirational, award winning documentary following the journey of 2 young Pokot girls who are refusing FGM. The film gives one much insight into the difficulties faced by communities who are locked into ancient customs and traditions when they have not been reached with education and enlightenment; a symptom of poverty and marginilisation!

2nd. "Alternative Rite of Passage" (ARP) ceremony

Posted by Cath Holland on March 21, 2012 at 6:00 PM Comments comments (0)


Report of our 2nd. ARP, held in December 2011 in Ortum, Central Pokot.

I am happy to report another hugely successful week of seminars and a brilliant ceremony on December 10th. I have posted a couple of video clips and will shortly post photos.

!82 girls participated with around 60 of 2010's girls joining towards the end of the week bringing the total number to 250!

We mostly followed our first ARP programme with some changes brought in after evaluation in 2010. This was mainly by including men in the programme. We invited 8 young Pokot men who spent a day taking the platform and discussing quite frankly with the girls issues surrounding FGM. The young men were all aware of the negative health consequences of FGM, also that FGM is illegal in Kenya. Some of the young men joined in the final celebrations. This consitutes great progress!

More evidence of progress and really good news is the new District Commissioner (D.C.) who spent a day with the girls counselling them, explaining about the law etc. He gave out his personal phone no. and encouraged the girls to call him any time day or night if they were in any danger, particularly being forced into having FGM performed. The D.C. invited us to hold our ceremony at the Chief's compound in the centre of the village rather than at the girls' school. He said we must take this message out to the general public. D.C. was the last person to speak on the day even speaking as night fell. In his words, "We have declared war on FGM". The new D.C., Hon.Arap Kurui, is truly a great and enlightened leader!

If you have not already seen the Guardian film "Abandon the Knife", can I recommend doing so. It provides great insight into this out-moded, dangerous and cruel practice and how difficult it can be for commun ities to abandon without extra help. You can also see in the film how desperate and eager the young women and girls are for change.

We are about to become a registered charity any day now which should make our fund raising easier. With more resources we would be able to spread the campaign message further afield throughout Pokot.


Latest visit to Ortum, Pokot

Posted by Cath Holland on October 19, 2011 at 4:30 PM Comments comments (0)

I travel to Kenya on Nov.24th with one of my UK midwifery colleagues, Sue Knowles.

We are planning a second "Alternative Rite of Passage" ceremony in early December following last year's success. Follow-up by "Kepsteno Rotwo" (abandon the knife) group members, found that of 175 girls who attended last year's ceremony, only 3 girls subsequently went to be circumcised. Obviously this is 3 too many but overall a huge success.

We had lots of fun at a recent fund raiser in my home town of Grange-over-Sands with top radio 4 comedian, Jeremy Hardy. This along with other fund raising events helps enormously to assist our Kenyan project to abandon FGM. Thanks for continuing support. This is a team effort!

More later......


20/04/11 MIDWIFE ON A MISSION!!!!!!!

Posted by Cath Holland on April 20, 2011 at 3:19 PM Comments comments (0)

This article was published in the Guardian newspaper on the 15th April 2011. 

"The midwife on a mission to stop female genital mutilation"

After Cath Holland witnessed the effects of the operation she set out to persuade an entire Kenyan province to renounce it...

It feels incongruous to be sitting in a cafe in Kendal – a town they call "the gateway to the Lake District" – discussing women's rights in the Rift Valley. And yet it couldn't be more relevant: because Cath Holland, the down-to-earth Lancashire midwife I'm with, has managed almost singlehandedly, and in her spare time, on a tiny budget, to steer an entire province of northern Kenya towards eradicating a practice that surely rates as the most extreme example of male domination today. Holland – a nurse and midwife who works on the labour ward at Furness General Hospital – first went to Kenya with VSO back in 1998. She was in her late 40s: her two sons were in their early 20s, and she felt she wanted an adventure. She was sent to be a midwifery tutor at a nursing school in the Cherangani Hills in Pokot, an area of Kenya that the Lonely Planet Guide describes as "East Africa's best-kept secret".

But when Holland arrived, she discovered Pokot had another secret – and it wasn't one travel books boasted about. The community still practised a form of female genital mutilation (FGM) that the World Health Organisation considers the most extreme – in which the entire outer genitalia, including the clitoris, are removed.

As a midwife, Holland saw the consequence: women giving birth had vaginal openings too narrow to let a baby through. "In that area, they say there are three sorrows of womanhood. The first is when a girl has her genitalia removed, usually in her teens. The second is when she gets married, and has to have her vagina opened so she can have penetrative sex, which is usually done using an animal's horn. And the third is when she gives birth, and has to be cut again so the baby can be born."

The practice turns healthy teenage girls into women with chronic ill-health – kidney problems, pelvic and back pain, infertility and birth difficulties are common. And they are the lucky ones: others won't survive the blood loss of the initial procedure or will contract HIV from the knives used, or die giving birth, or have stillborn or brain-damaged babies.

Holland abhorred the practice from the moment she came into contact with its effects. "At its root," says Holland, "FGM is all about patriarchy. It's about controlling women – controlling their sexuality, controlling their libido. In communities like Pokot it's regarded as a prerequisite for marriage." But her life was changed when a young girl she'd befriended in the village where she lived asked her if she'd like to attend her initiation ceremony – the event at which she would be mutilated.

"Nellie was about 14, and she often called in at my house on her way to and from school," she remembers. "One day she was a bit shy and coy, and she told me it was her initiation ceremony next week – and she wanted me to be there. As far as she was concerned, this was an important day on her life's journey. To me it was a tragedy, for her it was a rite of passage."

Holland says the event was like a village party – until they brought out the girls. "The men were all standing with their backs turned. I was with the women – and the sense of solidarity, and horror, was almost palpable," she remembers. "There were two circumcisers – they moved quickly from one girl to the next, cutting their labia." Then, says Holland, the girls were led to a wooded area, away from the men, for the more extensive cutting. "It was horrendous," she says. "And none of the girls cried out, because they'd had it drilled into them that they had to bear it without making a sound.

" Afterwards, Holland couldn't forget what she'd seen. "It haunted me," she says. "I knew I couldn't just go home, go back to my old job, forget all about it. Because there were more girls like Nellie, and it was going to go on and on. I couldn't turn my back on it.

" Back in Cumbria after her two years with VSO, Holland roped in her colleagues and friends to help her fundraise. In 2005, when they had collected enough money, she persuaded Miriam Lopus and Rhoda Lodio, two Kenyan midwives she knew from Pokot, to travel to Kendal and meet specialists who campaign against FGM. "I felt midwives were key," she says. "They see the effects of FGM – educating them had to be the way to start.

"They'd never had passports, and they'd never been on a plane. But they came, and I took them to meet doctors at places like Liverpool Women's Hospital, so they could learn more about FGM and its effects.

" But the bigger battle, as Holland was aware, lay in convincing the community to put an end to the practice. She returned to Pokot once or twice a year and kept in touch with Nellie, now a mother of two. FGM had led Nellie, as it does for many girls, to early marriage and an end to schooling. (Improving educational opportunities for women will, says Holland, be another ambition of the anti-FGM campaign in the long term.)

Over the years, events were held to educate different sections of the community: including men – which in some ways, says Holland, wasn't too difficult. "Because the men travel more, they're aware of communities in which women aren't mutilated, and they know that women don't have to be circumcised in order to get married.

" In 2009, Lopus and Lodio got more than 60 traditional birth attendants from across Pokot together to spread the word about the dangers of FGM. "The idea they came up with," says Holland, "was to put together an alternative rite-of-passage ceremony that didn't involve cutting.

" Back home, Holland fundraised for a week-long girls' camp that would end in a public ceremony to initiate 100 young girls into adulthood without FGM. "We were inundated with girls who wanted to attend – and many of them had had a tough time persuading their families that it was the better thing to do than FGM," she says. "In the end we had around 175, all aged between 14 and 20." The camp – which is the subject of a Guardian film – involved workshops and classes about the dangers of FGM, as well as dancing and fun events.

Holland's plan is to hold an annual rite of passage ceremony in Pokot, and fundraise for its costs. "Once the local community is on-side, and there's an alternative way of initiating the girls into adulthood, more and more becomes possible." It's a pretty impressive result for a project whose entire budget, at about £7,000 to date, would barely register in the world of international aid spending.

But Holland, now 61, is unwilling to stop. "Pokot is only one area of one country," she says. "There are many, many others where FGM still goes on. We want to replicate this work in other parts of Kenya, and in other parts of Africa. There's a lot more to be done."

NEWS 13/04/11

Posted by Cath Holland on April 13, 2011 at 3:28 PM Comments comments (0)

Latest news from "Beyond FGM";

Please watch out for Guardian film made last December about "Alternative Rite of Passage" ceremony in Pokot, Kenya where our project is currently based. This film has been "adopted" by Christian Aid as part of a series of 6 films looking at root causes and symptoms of poverty. It comes out on April 18th. We will however post it on our website and facebook page.

The "Alternative" ceremony was hugely successful as shows in the film. 175 girls participated in a week of seminars culminating in day of celebration with songs, dances, drama, poems, speeches! Truly wonderful! Thanks again to everyone who helped in any way big osr small to make it such a success.

Another major success followed on from December's "Alternative" ceremony. 2000 people turned out in the village of Ortum, Central Pokot to celebrate "International Zero Tolerance to FGM" day on Feb.6th this year.! People are so ready to change and just need support to spread the word around their communities.

The "Self Help" group in the film has now become a community based organisation, (CBO). The membership has grown rapidly and is forming into smaller groups to reach further afield in Pokot. The prevalence of FGM remains very high in the remoter, more rural areas where education has not yet reached. A problem of marginalisation and poverty!