Sarah Penny's Story

Author: Sarah Penny
Sarah Penny's Story

In 2014, Sarah Penny, a creative writer and academic, spent five weeks in Kenya investigating the use of creative writing and drama therapy as tools to empower mothers to refuse female genital mutilation (FGM) for their daughters.

The Fellowship

Alongside the drama-therapist Paula Kingwill, she initially shadowed S.A.F.E. (Sponsored Arts for Education), an arts group dedicated to delivering social change across Kenya, who use theatre to educate about FGM in villages on the outskirts of the Masai Mara National Reserve. 

From Talek Sarah and Paula travelled on to Narok, where they collected testimonies from a group of women who had undergone FGM themselves as young girls, and who refused to cut their own daughters. These narratives were developed into short plays with Kenyan actresses, then taken up to Tamiyoi, a village in Northern Kenya where FGM is universally practised.  Following the workshops, all 22 mothers present said they wanted to support one another to refuse FGM for their daughters.

The Results 

The Fellowship gave Sarah the opportunity to see for herself how creative writing and dramatherapy can be used in a sensitive, supportive environment to encourage people to consider refusing FGM, even where earlier education initiatives have failed. This is an important development in FGM work in the UK which often has a punitive, legislative tenor which makes communities feel as if the whole of their culture is being singled out and criticised as barbaric. 

Sarah went on to run a series of workshops with the Midaye Somali Development Network, where they gathered testimony from Somali men, women and girls on the theme of transitioning away from FGM.  These stories have been translated and will be broadcast as podcasts so they can be used in national campaigns at a grassroots level.  A further series of workshops is pending to gather narrative from the Sudanese community.