Kakenya Ntaiya speaks her truth at Mason’s annual Sojourner Truth Lecture

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Dr. Kakenya Ntaiya, George Mason University's Sojourner Truth Lecture guest speaker. Photo by Shayla Brown.
Dr. Kakenya Ntaiya, guest speaker at George Mason University's Sojourner Truth Lecture. Photo by Shayla Brown/Strategic Communications.

Kakenya Ntaiya’s life was set to follow the traditional Kenyan path of ending school early in preparation for marriage and motherhood at the age of 15, but she had a different dream. 

Ntaiya, who was George Mason University’s 2023 Sojourner Truth Lecture guest speaker on March 2, is the founder of Kakenya’s Dream, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to educating and advocating for young girls across rural Kenya.   

“I’m really grateful to be here as we are ending the celebration of Black History Month, and also welcoming Women’s History Month since they’re two of the entities that I have within me,” she said. “In communities like ours, you find that the place of a woman is pretty low.” 

About 50 people were in attendance during the lecture. When Ntaiya was asked why it was so important for a Black feminist to also be committed to health, she responded, “Health is everything, especially mental health, but general health is everything.” 

“I grew up in a community where about 40 percent of young girls between the age of 15 and 19 give birth, 50 percent are married off during childhood, 80 percent undergo female genital mutilation (FGM), often without anesthesia,” said Ntaiya, who also was subjected to the procedure in Kenya where it is considered a rite of passage to womanhood.  

“I was lucky to survive because most girls die from bleeding,” she said. “There are consequences for the bodies of these young girls.” 

Despite having been subjected to FGM, Ntaiya made a deal with her father to let her forgo marriage and finish her education, promising her rural Kenyan community that she would go to school in the United States and use her education to help the village in exchange for their support. 

“The commitment that Kakenya has to supporting women and girls internationally is unparalleled,” said LaNitra Berger, director of Mason’s African and African American Studies Program.  “I have so much respect for the organization that she runs, and the ways in which she is completely dedicated to the cause of women and girls’ education.”  

Ntaiya said she was driven to make a difference to help end child marriage in Kenya, in the absence of intervention from NGOs or other aid organizations. 

“The government of course had laws in Kenya [that said we're] not supposed to be married before 18, but those are just laws in the box that are not implemented,” said Ntaiya. 

In addition to educating girls and women on various topics, Kakenya’s Dream also gives boys and men the tools to help them be allies for women battling cultural norms.  

“They now speak out against the practices [of the past] and we have a better future with the younger generations now sensitized about the harm of FGM,” said Ntaiya. “Young men learning about this are going to marry a woman that is not cut, and that is where we start seeing the generational change that will break the norms that have been there thus far.”