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NTV Rose Interview


Uncut Voices” Wins Hoso Bunka Foundation Prize in TV Proposal Division.

The winners of the JAPAN PRIZE 2020, an annual International contest for educational media, were announced and awarded on November 5. In the TV Proposal Division, the Hoso Bunka Foundation Prize for the best proposal was awarded to “Uncut Voices” by Nation Broadcasting Division (NTV), Kenya, selected from 5 finalists out of 30 entries from 13 countries and regions. Ms. Rose Wangui Wanyiri, Senior Feature Reporter of NTV received the prize representing the team.

Due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Japan Prize Week events such as the finalists’ proposal pitch to the jury, jury discussions and the announcement/awards ceremony, normally held in person in Tokyo, were conducted virtually, connecting the finalists and jurors for all divisions from around the world. When “Uncut Voices” was called out as the winner of the best proposal at the ceremony, Ms. Wangui showed her joy with a big smile from Nairobi.

The proposed “Uncut Voices” will be produced as a documentary that features five young women who refused to undergo Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a traditional practice of cutting or removal of some or all of the external female genitalia. Although FGM is a painful and highly dangerous ritual and has a serious negative impact on the physical and psychological health of women, it is still conducted in many communities. By describing the delicate subject from those fighting women’s point of view, this story will send a message that it’s all right for all women to live the way they are.

Mr. Galen Yeo, Chairperson of Proposal Pitch, commented from Singapore that the jury was really moved by the winning proposal that features the women activists who refused to undergo the dangerous FGM ritual and try to make a change. Then, he expressed his high expectations by saying, “It’ not a work telling and bringing light to this wrong practice. Hopefully, it’s going to help make more positive change in attitudes in Kenya and in other cases where this is practiced, and really make a difference in the lives of women. Good luck!”

Returning Tokyo MC’s request for comment, Ms. Wangui said that she is well aware of the capability and responsibility of the media for social change, and showed her enthusiasm by saying, “I hope the documentary will play a critical role to our activism in the campaign to promote the abandonment of Female Genital Mutilation”.

At a later date, the Hoso Bunka Foundation had an online interview with Ms. Wangui in Nairobi, where she talked more details about her enthusiasm, as a journalist, for the issue of FGM and how she developed such a deep sense of mission to produce “Uncut Voices”.

TV Proposal Division, Hoso Bunka Foundation Prize

Interview with Winner Rose Wangui Wanyiri

Q) Congratulations on winning the Hoso Bunka Foundation Prize. First of all, we would like to talk about your professional background. Why did you choose to be a journalist, and a TV producer especially?
Rose)Way back in 2000, I started at NTV as an intern, but I realized our newsrooms focused so much on politics, current affairs and business, but they never did issues of development and social issues. So that is the gap I felt that was needed to fill, and I decided I’m the one who’s going to go out and do these stories. So I specialize in human-interest stories, often going to hardship areas to shed light on stories of forgotten people. That is stories related to children, youth, women and social justice. Some of the stories have elicited response from the public or influence the government policy. So this is the path I decided to do because nobody was doing it.

Q) You have been covering various gender issues throughout your career. How did you become interested in FGM?
Rose)The issue of Female Genital Mutilation has been there. It’s something that especially male journalists don’t cover because normally our male journalists don’t like covering women and gender issues. So this is something that I felt was not given enough coverage in the mainstream media. First, FGM was banned in 2001. It was in the Children’s Act, but we never had laws about FGM. So they were enacted in 2011, and this is after a lot of coverage from media how it is about, what Female Genital Mutilation is all about.

When I really got to understand what Female Genital Mutilation is all about from a medical perspective, I realize this is something that, as a journalist, I really need to deal deeper and bring stories from different communities that practice FGM.

As much as you have laws, FGM is still practiced by 22 communities. Some communities it’s almost a 100 percent. So as media houses, if we continue keeping quiet, we will not be able to wipe out this outdated culture that has been there. So it is always my wish to try and do different angles of FGM, talking to survivors, girls who are never cut, talking to men who were also involved in FGM. It’s about creating impact in the society and just letting the society know what FGM is all about.

Q) The Kenyan government launched a policy to eradicate FGM practicing by 2022, but it’s not an easy job because probably it’s almost impossible to change the mind of the people who strongly affirm the value of FGM. How do you think “Uncut Voices” will help make the government strategy succeed?
Rose)Female Genital Mutilation is such a deeply entrenched tradition that started in practice way back. It’s a century-old outdated practice that has been practiced for very many years and centuries. Before, the government was using laws and they were a bit very aggressive with… (warning them,) we’re going to arrest you. So what the communities are trying to do is hide. So the government has realized this is such a deeply rooted culture that they needed to change their strategy. It’s about talking to them, making them understand why you have to do away with this tradition.

So I think my documentary is getting the women who refused to be cut. Most of them were ostracized, but somehow the community has accepted them. So the documentary is just to let other communities know that, “Without being cut, your daughter or your sister can still succeed”. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about FGM. Some people believe it is religious. Some people believe a woman who’s not been cut cannot be married or cannot give birth. Some even kill kids. If you give birth to a child who’s in that circumstances, the child would be killed.

So it’s just trying to change the myths and misconceptions in these communities and trying to educate other communities that those ladies are not cut but they are still successful. Most of them completed school. They have gone to universities, then they’re working. It’s just changing the narrative. So that is the main aim of the documentary.

Q) It’s hard to change the mind of old people, so you’re targeting young people. How many years or generations do you think it’ll take before all the girls don’t have to care about FGM any more?
Rose)I think for the ladies who refused to be cut, they are sort of like role models. They are some heroes in their communities, possibly they are known in their communities but they are not known to the outside world. So this is the first time they are being shown to the outside world, and I hope they will serve as role models to young girls in other communities that still practice FGM, because some of these girls had to run away from home. They had to part from their parents and they were very young, but over time, they were able to reconcile with their parents.

This is just a way of telling, “You know what. You have your rights. We have all of these laws. This government will protect you. There are rescue centers where you can decide to flee from home if you decide you don’t want to be cut, and you have the right to say No to FGM.” So this is to young girls to say you can say No to FGM. You can be bold. You can still be a girl without being cut.

Q) You have five young women from different communities/tribes in your documentary. How did you meet them?
Rose)I have done a lot of stories of Female Genital Mutilation and I get to travel a lot. So some people told me about them, some of them I’ve met personally when sometimes you attend seminars or workshops, or sometimes I have links to these communities and get to meet them.

So I got to meet a lot of them and thought why don’t I do a story about these young ladies with very powerful and interesting stories, because these ladies are very bold, very resilient and very perseverant to defy such a culture. All these ladies come from very patriarchal society where women are not supposed to be seen or heard. Women are not supposed to be vocal.

Q) So you got them one by one, not in the same meeting or activity.
Rose)No, no. I met them in different ways, very different capacities, like I met a lady when she was very young. I remember she was sixteen years old and that was in 2010. So right now, she is around twenty-six. She was still in high school then, so she had become sort of a role model in the community, a young girl who refused to be cut. So she cleared high school, completed university, and right now, she has started her own campaign. So it’s a story that’s still being followed up since she was a young kid and now she is grownup.

Some of them, I met them in workshops. Some of them are very vocal on social media, on Facebook, on Twitter, they always tweeting, writing messages. Some of them attend radio stations talking about their stories.

Q) They don’t live in their own home communities any more? They’re in Nairobi or in big cities?
Rose)No, most of them are in their own communities. Yes, because as much as probably most of them came to Nairobi to attend universities, after the clearing and getting jobs, most of them went back to their communities to try, create awareness. Some of them work with local NGOs that fight FGM. Some of them have started their own foundation, the small community-based organization trying to fight the harmful practices.

Q) What are your broadcast and production plans for the documentary?
Rose)My broadcast plan is next year around May, June because all these ladies come from platteland areas, different very remote areas in Kenya where you have to travel more than 10 hours. They come from different locations, so this is something I have to plan with them actually. But I expect, at least, by December, January, so I’ll do the planning when I start shooting. So probably I’ll start shooting by the end of January or February. So It’ll take me roughly 2 months to shoot depending on the time and location we get until we get to shoot what we really want, because these girls are really busy. They go to the communities, they educate, so you also have to plan all of that.

Q) I’ve heard sort of the same story in Sierra Leone. It happens in many places not only in Africa but in some parts of Asian countries. Do you think you could show your documentary in other countries as well?
Rose)It could be important that the thing is about Kenya. I know Sierra Leone and FGM in Gambia. In Africa, Kenya is among the first country which has a lot of communities practicing FGM. If you look at the data, Kenya is leading in terms of Female Genital Mutilation. The prevalence is really really high because Kenya has 42 communities/tribes, and 22 are still practicing Female Genital Mutilation.

I think it’s important because if we do the story in Kenya, we are targeting the Kenyan audience because thinking about Female Genital Mutilation, every community, every tribe, every country, they have their own values about FGM. For us, some communities believe it’s religious, especially like Somali who are Muslim. In those communities, they believe that a girl has to be cut before you get married. So each community has attached their own values. It’s a bit different.

Q) How is the internet used in Kenya?
Rose)Kenya is very active when it comes to social media. So whenever we do stories, whenever you do such special reports, we always advertise them for a whole week, like “Sunday, Make sure you tune into these. We have this and this.” So you get sometimes the whole country is watching. So we get a lot of people watching, and we get stories trending on social media, and Kenyans will discuss. And see this is a way of getting these girls to be known by the Kenyan society. We have a lot of Kenyans living in outside places, in the US, the UK. They still watch our stories on YouTube.

Q) Changing the subject to Japan Prize, this year, we thought there was no chance to hold the contest, but thanks to the Japan Prize’s great efforts, we are so glad that we’re able to help you here. How did you decide to enter this Japan Prize contest?
Rose)Actually, this is not the first time that I tried to enter the Japan Prize. First, I applied in 2008. I think I applied twice for the Proposal, but I was never shortlisted. I tried again because I had written this proposal. So I had this story in mind that I always wanted to do for the last two years. I had kept it in mind. I saw Japan Prize because I’m always on your social media account that is Facebook and also get updates on email. So I got updates on email about Japan Prize, and July is the deadline, so I decided let me try. I was so excited because I applied for more than 5 times, but I was never shortlisted.

Q) How did you feel when you were told you would have to present online and everything would be decided online?
Rose)Of course, I’ve never been to Japan. I would really love to travel all the way to Japan, but it’s okay because I understand because of the pandemic, everything has been online. Even for us, we’ve been doing a lot of ZOOM meetings, virtual and everything. I understand that is the situation because of the pandemic and COVID, but I hope I can come to Japan next time and all things settle down.

Q) Thank you very much. We wish you good luck, and we really hope to see you here in Tokyo next year.
Rose)Thank you very much. I want to say I’m really humbled and honored.