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Since 2001, Fatuma Kinsi Abass, Founder and Executive Director Pastoralist Girls Initiative (PGI) has been working to promote girls’ education by breaking barriers that have prevented girls from accessing education and staying in school. Some of these barriers are early marriage, female genital mutilation and a lack of knowledge and means to manage their maturation. PGI has also been working towards economic empowerment of women through training, initiation of agricultural projects, advocacy, and provision of seed capital for women to start small businesses.

How did Pastoralist Girls Initiative (PGI) arise?

The North Eastern part of Kenya is an arid region inhabited by the Somali people who are mostly pastoralist. The region is dry most of the year and there has been perennial drought and famine. This leaves the residents vulnerable to hunger and resource related conflict.

For many years, the region has deliberately been marginalized by successful governments and this has resulted in minimal development. The government has had a policy focusing development only on areas with agricultural potential, and arid and semi-arid regions are not put under this category. Consequently, the region had lagged behind all the other parts of the country in almost all human development indicators including infant mortality rate, maternal mortality rate, literacy, poverty levels and even infrastructure development.

The Somali community has traditionally been a patriarchal society where the man is the head and the sole decision maker in the family. Women and girls have not had a role to play in deciding their own fate and that of the community at large. The boy child is favored over the girl child and most of the opportunities available have been given to boys. There are markedly high instances of gender-based violence, poor education outcomes for girls, little or no economic empowerment for women and girls are married off at an early age.

Unfavorable government policies, abusive cultural practices and natural factors have seriously affected the economic and social advancement of women and girls in the region. In response to this, in 2001 PGI was formed with the aim of working with and for the betterment of women and the girls among the Somali pastoralist community.

Could you tell us more about the work you do in Kenya?

PGI works towards reducing gender disparity in access to resources, extreme poverty, ignorance, poor health and gender-based violence. It does this by addressing cultural, systemic, natural, personal and other factors that affect their economic and social advancement.  We focus on four main areas: girls’ education and empowerment; quality health care; livelihood development and environment and natural resource management.

We offer in school programs which address situations that affect girls in school. We provide for the practical needs of the girls such as access, retention, transition, completion, performance and participation in their educational circle. PGI provides scholarships, education for girls on reproductive health and the provision of sanitary towels as well as books and uniforms. We also educate and advocate for safe schools where girls can combat violence at the school level.


PGI supports girls to access quality education

PGI supports girls to access quality education.
Credit: Thandiwe Muriu/Stars Foundation

We also have an out of school approach and this strategy addresses issues at the household and community level. This approach involves working with community members to ensure girls do not drop out of school. The activities taking place at the community level are aimed at increasing demand for girl’s education amongst parents through active community engagement and awareness creation. Once the demand is created amongst parents, this complements other interventions taking place within the schools and at the community level addressing strategic and long-term needs. Long-term strategies include alternative livelihoods for pastoralist communities, policy advocacy, leadership development and sustainable management of environment and natural resources that holistically support girl’s education.

What type of training and mentorship do you offer girls?

We offer girls leadership skills training; career development; team building; self-esteem and confidence building; peer to peer trainings; talent developments; child rights education and sexual and reproductive health and rights education. We offer virtual mentoring, group mentoring or traditional one-to-one mentoring.

What are the biggest obstacles you face?

The biggest obstacle we face are lack of funds. PGI like any other local organization has difficulty in finding sufficient, appropriate and continuous funding for our work. Finding access to donors is challenging as dealing with the limited resource mobilization skills.

Do you involve the men in the empowerment of these women?

We recognize that men have a role to play when it comes to ensuring gender equity and women empowerment to ensure a level playing field for both men and women, removing all forms of discrimination that prevail against women. We involve religious and community leaders, boys and youths in all aspects of development prior to assessments and implementations in eradicating the traditions hindering women empowerment and their rights to access education, human rights and social developments.

What are PGI’s milestones?

The formation of INUA Girls’ Transition of the Girls’ forums: INUA Girls group is a girls led group, one of its kind in northern province of Kenya that is a product of girls’ empowerment carried out by PGI. It’s a girls’ movement group that has gone from girl forums in primary school to reaching out to girls in secondary schools and out of school girls. It has a membership of 5000 girls under 19 years old in Garissa. The girls’ activities are advocacy work, they organize walks, campaigns, monitor girls’ violence such as FGM and early marriages at community level.

Food for Fees: We started this project during the peak time of the drought where many girls were dropping out of school to provide cheap labor as an income of their families. More than 500 girls benefited during that time. This was very successful because it raised a lot of publicity and many organizations followed suit and did the same to ensure that girls don’t drop out of school. PGI secured funding for girls’ scholarships through global giving and 100 girls will complete their education.

Advocating for STEM: The Hulugho and Benane girls’ laboratory project has supported girls who were not able to take their Science class due to lack of laboratory facilities. Forty-five girls have taken their exams last year and another forty-five will take the exams this year using the facility. The girls have performed better than before and we do anticipate this year’s girls will also do the same.

Girls Camps- Beyond Classroom, Empowering Girls: We organize girls’ camps at every school to educate girls on taking responsibility and protecting themselves from harmful cultural practices. We use our leadership and mentorship manual to educate the girls to mentor one another. The camp offers girls training on Leadership, Mentorship, Career Development, Child Rights training and Team Building and Networking linking them to existing clubs in the region.

What are your next steps?

Our next steps are developing a resource center for girls to come and access information. We also want to connect girls to international colleges and schools. We want to organize girl’s camps outside the region and offer alternative pathways for girls’ education for example connecting the girls out of school (dropouts) to Village polytechnics. We also want to encourage girls’ mothers to return to school by offering incentives like a ride to a school close to them or giving the girls bicycles to support them go to schools that are far.