From Victim to Leader: How Chief Meibuko is Fighting Poverty and Gender Inequality in Kajiado

by Noah Wekesa

Chief Meibuko holds the black staff, a symbol of her authority and leadership, with a sense of pride and purpose. The polished ebony wood gleams in the sunlight as she walks, emanating a sense of power and tradition. She grips the staff with a firm yet gentle hand, which amplifies her commanding presence. The team serves as a visual reminder to those around her that she is not just a woman but a leader to be respected and obeyed. It symbolises her commitment to serving her community with honour and dignity and her dedication to protecting girls and women despite some of the harmful traditions and values passed down for generations.

“Wherever there is poverty, conflict and gender inequality, women and girls lives are at risk for exploitation” Chief Meibuko

Chief Meibuko giving some nuggets of wisdom to young girls during a post-ARP symposium

Chief Meibuko was only 11 years old when she underwent Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C). It was a rite of passage for the girls in her village, a tradition that had been followed for generations. She still remembers the pain, the trauma, and the fear she experienced during the procedure. But that was not the end of her story. Chief Meibuko refused to be defined by her experience. She was determined to rise above it.

Chief Meibuko was the second-born in a family of six. Her father was a former Moran turned pastoralist who owned a small herd of cattle. The family lived in a small village in Kajiado County in Kenya, where poverty was a way of life for many families. Chief Meibuko’s parents struggled to put food on the table, let alone afford to pay school fees for their children. Education was a luxury that many families could not afford, especially for girls.

But Chief Meibuko’s father was different. He had always believed in the power of education and knew that it was the key to a better life. He had seen how his lack of education had held him back and was determined not to let the same thing happen to his children. He convinced his wife to let their daughter go to school, even though it meant that they had to sell some of their cattle to pay for her fees.

Chief Meibuko was an excellent student. Despite the challenges she faced, she worked hard and excelled in her studies. She was determined to make the most of her opportunity and to use her education to create a better future for herself and her family.

After high school, Chief Meibuko got married, as was expected of her in her culture. However, her father had one condition before allowing her to marry: she had to pursue her undergraduate degree. He knew the value of education and wanted his daughter to have every opportunity to succeed in life.

Chief Meibuko completed her undergraduate degree in Conflict Resolution and then pursued a postgraduate degree in Public Administration. She was determined to use her education to make a difference in her community. She worked hard and eventually became the area chief in the Kiloo area in Kajiado County.

As a chief, Chief Meibuko has been able to use her position to protect girls from harmful cultural practices, such as FGM. She has seen firsthand the devastating impact these practices can have on young girls and their futures. She is determined to do everything she can to ensure that no girl in her community has to endure what she did.

Chief Meibuko is grateful for her parents, who believed in the power of education and made sacrifices to ensure that she and her siblings could attend school. She knows that she would not be where she is today without their support. She is determined to pay it forward by empowering the next generation of girls and women in her community.

“During the post-ARP symposium, the girls were able to open up, affirming some of her administration’s fears. A major challenge among the girls was limited access to sanitary towels due to lack of funds which caused the girls to look for alternatives,” Chief Meibuko Explains.

According to a 2019 report by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, Kajiado County has a poverty rate of 18.4%, slightly lower than the national average poverty rate of 21.4%. Poverty, for one, is a major obstacle to education and success. For many families, especially those in rural areas, the cost of education is too high. As a result, many young girls are forced to drop out of school and take on household chores, making them vulnerable to early marriage and harmful cultural practices like FGM.

Chief Meibuko’s parents understood the importance of education, even in the face of poverty. They knew education was the key to a better life for their daughter and family. They made sacrifices to ensure Chief Meibuko could g attend school, even selling some of their cattle to pay fees. Chief Meibuko worked hard and excelled in her studies, determined to make the most of her opportunity.

Unfortunately, not all families in her community have the same mindset. Poverty is a driving force behind many harmful practices that Chief Meibuko is trying to combat. Families may see early marriage as a way to reduce the financial burden of raising a daughter. Similarly, FGM is sometimes seen as a way to prepare girls for marriage and to increase their value in the eyes of potential suitors.

Chief Meibuko knows that poverty is a significant obstacle to achieving her goals. She is working hard to raise awareness about education’s importance and empower young girls in her community to stay in school. She also uses her position as chief to protect girls from harmful practices like FGM and early marriage. She knows the road ahead will not be easy, but she is determined to make a difference and create a better future for the girls in her community.

“Most of these girls are still at risk of undergoing FGM and early marriage. They need safe spaces or rescue centres where they can seek shelter when things get worse at home. Through Amref we have been able to establish Community Advisory Committees which are tasked with monitoring the villages for anyone practicing FGM. The Committees consist of ex-cutters, FGM survivors, youth, traditional elders, faith leaders and musicians. To stop FGM among women and girls, we must inform people about the full consequences of FGM including the law against it. It is critical to start raising awareness about this in schools, starting young so they do not become victims.” says Chief Meibuko

Chief Meibuko dreams of building a free school and a rescue centre for the girls of her village, and she stresses the importance of the inclusion of young married girls and mothers. She believes that empowering girls and young women now is empowering future mothers who will stand against FGM/C.

“Wherever there is poverty, conflict and gender inequality, women and girls’ lives are at risk for exploitation. These cycles can be broken by educating the girl child” Chief Meibuko

Chief Meibuko’s story is a testament to the power of education and the resilience of the human spirit. She refused to let her past define her and instead used her experiences to fuel her drive for success. She inspires all who know her and is a shining example of what can be achieved when we believe in ourselves and the power of education.

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