YALI Regional Leadership Center Alum Tony Mwebia, born in northern Meru County, Kenya, was strongly influenced by his parents, who served as strong role models of gender equality. His mom, a school teacher, and his dad, a professional chef, had mutual respect for each other and their work.
With his parents serving as his blueprint for gender equality, Tony decided to examine gender equality’s antithesis, gender inequality. His early experience as a project assistant for HIAS Refugee Trust of Kenya is where he first learned about female genital mutilation. While some people consider FGM to be a coming-of-age rite of passage, it is internationally recognized as a human rights violation. “I found myself reading extensively on the topic of FGM. [The gender equality projects at HIAS] were a turning point for me, and I vowed to give my life to the noble cause of ending FGM, child marriage and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence,” said Tony.
“After working with HIAS Refugee Trust of Kenya, I got an opportunity to work with a government department in Kuria, Kenya,” said Tony. While there, Tony aspired to share his knowledge of FGM and its harmful effects. Tony took his engagement to the next level by starting an online campaign called #MenEndFGM on Twitter to engage men and boys in ending FGM and gender-based discrimination. Tony also began writing blogs on the same issues. The campaign earned global recognition, and in 2019, he and a couple of friends registered #MenEndFGM as a charitable organization.
Tony’s organization creates a safe space for men and women to address FGM and other community issues, ranging from poor infrastructure to food security and lack of water resources. His organization also offers parenting forums for fathers, mothers, sons and daughters to discuss child marriage and other issues that affect children. His outreach “under the tree” programs engage religious leaders, churches and community members in discussions about gender-based violence. “At #MenEndFGM Foundation, we have a unique approach borrowed from the Tostan Training Center. We call it modified community visioning. By finding solutions for these [community] issues, the men are happy to discuss FGM and child marriage. We also engage young boys in football activities and other thematic engagements geared towards changing their perception of gender equality,” said Tony.
Tony stresses that to progress as a society, men must address gender bias and discrimination. “Our African societies are extremely patriarchal, with the men as the key decision makers of our culture. Some cultural practices are oppressive and harmful, and there is a need to transform social and gender norms. We also need to understand that hegemony exists between men, and issues like bullying among boys should not be left out when addressing discrimination. This will ensure a healthy society where everyone thrives.”
Tony envisions a world where men and women are equal and wishes everyone to experience a childhood with the gender equality values his parents instilled in him. Tony says, “When you empower a woman, you empower the society. Let us embrace equality of sexes to foster development and well-being in our societies.”
Tony invites YALI Network members to follow #MenEndFGM and his personal Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and TikTok at @MenEndFGM and @TonyMwebia.