Caroline Lentupuru is currently the County Executive Committee Member of Environment, Natural Resources, Energy & Mining in Kenya. She is also a 2014 VV Lead fellow.
What is one way gender-based violence is affecting your community?
Women and girls in Kenya are disempowered and marginalized by gender-based violence and therefore unable to fully participate in society. It has hindered women’s access to education, making them more vulnerable to harmful cultural practices and leading to increased rates of poverty.
Why are you working on this issue? What made you get involved?
I was the first and only girl from my small community to have joined University. Once there, I felt lonely and was troubled by the fact that no other girls from my community were reaching that level of education. When I decided to find out what the source of this problem was, I came to the bitter realization that it was early marriage, preempted by female genital cutting (FGC), that was holding girls back from education.
During that time I saw a girl die a few hours after undergoing forced FGC. This was a painful and life altering experience for me. It impacted me so deeply, that I decided to dedicate my life to ending gender-based violence in my community.
How is your solution to ending gender-based violence unique?
My approach to ending gender-based violence is unique in that it is grass roots. The model is based on the development of peer support systems. When women and girls have strong role models, they are more likely to dialoge amongst themselves about issues that women and girls face, engage in community conversations, and undertake advocacy causes to improve the wellbeing their community as a whole.
Can you reflect on a transformation or success you have seen in your work?
I have seen great success with our peer to peer mentoring model. After years of advocacy, parents and girls are saying no to FGC and forced early marriage. This work takes time, but it is incredibly important. With regards to girls education, my greatest joy comes from watching our role model girls transition from one level of education to the next and ultimately join University and earn diplomas!
How are you engaging men in your community?
Men are key stakeholders in my advocacy work. I cannot stress the importance of engaging them in the process. As part of our FGC and early marriage advocacy campaign, we have set up men only community conversations. Out of this initiative, many men have changed their perception of women and their role in society. and have become role model men who say no to FGC and early marriage for their daughters, relatives and other community members.
What is your one specific call to action to the Vital Voices international community?
We must all continue to support the fight against gender-based violence and soldier on without tiring!