Hivos International

‘Beading Stories’: a powerful film on overcoming gender inequality in Northern Kenya

Samburu women

Girls are the most affected by harmful practices engrained in many cultures. The impact of these practices usually lasts a lifetime. In northern Kenya, the girl child among the pastoralist communities has paid the price of simply being a ‘girl’: from female genital mutilation (FGM) to early child marriage, including lack of education and the continuous spread of HIV/AIDS.

Despite global and national awareness such as the Beijing Declaration to put these practices to an end, communities in Marsabit, Laikipia and Samburu counties continue to carry them out.

The most recent Demographic Health Survey in Kenya indicates that the estimated FGM prevalence amongst young women between the ages 15-49 stands at 21%.

But the Samburu Girls Foundation (SGF), a Hivos East Africa partner since 2015, is playing a vital role in the fight to rid Samburu County of harmful gender practices. The foundation empowers community women and girls through knowledge sharing, advocacy and brokering useful links with schools, the judiciary and the law enforcement agencies in rescue missions where girls bound by the beads are denied an opportunity to grow and go to school.

Their latest project, ‘Cultural perspectives of Gender Based Violence (GBV) among the pastoralist’s communities,’ focuses on rescuing threatened girls and integrating them back into their families through a counselling and reconciliation process while telling their stories in a documentary, Beading Stories.

The documentary presents powerful, first-hand accounts by ‘beaded’ young girls who were rescued from genital mutilation and early marriage in Samburu. They tell harrowing tales, not only of physical suffering, but also of the deep emotional trauma of watching their dreams fade away. ‘Beading’ is a cultural practice where girls as young as nine are adorned with beads signifying ‘engagement’, which assigns her to a chosen young male warrior for sexual purposes whenever he wants.

A free screening of Beading Stories at the Alliance Francaise on March 7, 2016 was sponsored by Hivos in conjunction with SGF, Light Box and Nottawasaga Institute. This provided a platform for these women to share inspirational first-hand accounts of change that show their journey to becoming leaders, change makers and innovators. The screening also included a panel discussion on promoting gender equality.

As a front runner in furthering women’s rights, Hivos participated in this project of collecting and documenting real life stories in order to create knowledge and raise awareness that will also have immediate human impact.

Josephine Kulea, founder of Samburu Girls Foundation

Josephine Kulea, founder of SGF, is a courageous youth activist, leading by example towards eradicating harmful cultural practices facing children and girls in Northern Kenya.  

Her organisation has rescued over 200 girls from child marriage, female genital mutilation and 'beading' - practices that are still widely spread among the pastoralist communities in Northern Kenya.

Over the years, Samburu Girls Foundation has played a pivotal role in providing rescued girls with education, shelter and security so as to make informed decisions on their future without cultural influence.