Fellow Since 2002
Center of Human Rights and Democracy
This profile was prepared when Kennedy Wafula was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2002.
The New Idea
Formerly a journalist covering human rights abuses, Ken has pioneered the use of civil litigation as a mechanism for preventing parents, circumcisers, and village chiefs from forcing girls to undergo circumcision. While other measures have been introduced to discourage the practice–alternate rights of passage, civic education–none has proved especially effective, as female circumcision is rooted in cultural norms and traditions that take many years to redirect or overcome. Ken sees that civil litigation, which enables courts to bar the practice, may deliver lasting structural change where other strategies have faltered. Building on his success in test cases, Ken has developed an integrated approach to deterrence that involves three elements: community monitoring systems that enhance awareness of civil litigation options and help to mobilize community opposition to female genital mutilation, enabling a prompt intervention before the practice is carried out; going to court to seek prohibitive and mandatory injunctions, or permanent court orders barring the circumcision of girls; and counseling and family reconciliation initiatives. In a growing number of countries where the practice is prevalent–Amnesty International lists 28–Ken works to assist girls who ask for help or are referred to his organization as part of the community-monitoring efforts he encourages.