Voices from the Community as they embrace the Alternative Rite of Passage in place of FGM

by Amref Health Africa

Esonorua Village, Kajiado County is a community that practises Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C). The practise is performed on girls between the ages of nine and 15 years who are afterwards married off.

According to UNICEF Kenya, the practice of FGM has been declining over the years, with a fast decline among girls aged 15 to 19. This is also seen through the 2014 Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS), where the overall prevalence of FGM in Kenya has decreased from 38 percent in 1998 to 32 percent in 2003 and to 27 percent in 2008 among women between the ages of 15 and 19.

At a colourful cultural ceremony held at Esonorua Village on 26 April, 184 girls graduated through the Alternative Rite of Passage. The Alternative Rite of Passage is a community-driven initiative supported by Amref Health Africa that retains the cultural celebration of a girl’s transition into womanhood without the ‘cut’, early/forced marriage as well as teenage pregnancy.

The ceremony was supported by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign AffairsYes I DO Dutch Alliance through Amref Health Africa in Kenya.

The girls were prepped for the ceremony in a four-day training held at Olnesoru Primary School. They received training on sexual reproductive health, the dangers of FGM, child rights, sexual abuse, substance abuse, self-esteem, good health, culture and harmful traditions.

This process would not be a success without involving the custodians of the Maasai tradition and culture who are the decision makers. The elders, morans, parents, local leaders, religious leaders as well as ‘Ex-Cutters’ are an important group that drives the movement to end FGM and ensure girls attain their dreams. That is why Amref Health Africa and other implementing partners work closely with them to ensure they take ownership and lead in the fight against FGM/C.

Amref Health Africa believes and supports the pan-African movement to put an end to FGM/C. This movement is community-led and builds on partnerships by empowering communities and civil society organisations to take up and own the work of ending FGM/C.

From Right;Tikoe Oyie, Mwangi Oyie and Lantano Kotikosh – Morans

Speaking at the ARP ceremony, the Maasai warriors also known as ‘morans’ said they would not shy away from marrying ‘uncut girls.’ Even as they advocate against FGM, they vowed to respect those who have been ‘cut’ and not subject them to stigma. They stand courageously as community champions advocating against the practise.

“This part of our culture is not right. Why are we still ‘cutting’ our sisters yet we have decided to marry ‘uncut girls?“ asked 21-year old Moran  Lantano Kotikash.

His fellow Moran, 23-year old father of four, Tikoe Oyie, also embraced the decision of marrying uncircumcised girls.

“The innocent girls are circumcised to marry us. We have denounced this harmful practise and therefore we should completely stop it.”

The cultural elders who are key players in the journey towards ending the retrogressive practice also pledged to stop FGM and protect young girls to fulfil their dreams.

Seventy year old Nkuyiayia Ole Nkongoni, said that the training by Amref was an eye opener as it informed them in depth about the dangers of FGM.

“We came to realise it is worthless to circumcise girls as it has no benefit. This is why we are supporting the Alternative Rite of Passage.”

“I have circumcised my girls, that was way back when I was not educated on the dangers of FGM. The only gift I can give my grandchildren is to support them and ensure they undergo the alternative rite of passage, get educated and become what they want in life.” Said Mesita ololkimaniki.

The girls who graduated were happy beyond words to go through the ARP ceremony.

“I have learnt a lot about my rights as a Maasai girl. I will not allow my future to be destroyed because of FGM, early marriage and pregnancy. I am happy to graduate in this ceremony that gives us hope and allows us to continue with our education unlike the traditional FGM ceremony that shutters our dreams,” said 13 year old Marleen Mantaine, a Class Eight pupil at Osonurura Primary School.

Marleen Mantaine, a Class Eight pupil at Osonurura Primary School

Esonorua East Assistant Chief Mr Simon Kuyuoni Nkuyiayia sent a strong and clear message saying,

“We will not play with those destroying our girls’ dreams. We thank the local leaders for helping us arrest those who attempt or plan to circumcise our girls. We will not stop with this movement, this is just the beginning.”

Nailantei Kamuye, an ex-circumciser was not left behind. She was among the committee members who organised the ARP ceremony. Nailantei has put down all her tools and vowed to protect girls from FGM.

“I have circumcised so many girls including my own children. The moment all circumcisers stop doing this business like I did, girls will not have to face this traumatic experience. I was educated, trained and empowered by Amref. I opted to focus on other business such ornament making and I make money from it. It is so fulfilling that I will no longer take part in this practise.”

Amref Health Africa envisions a continent free of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), where girls are empowered to continue their education and become the women of their dreams. Through Amref Health Africa’s ARP programs, over 17,000 girls have been saved from FGM/C. One step at a time, Amref Health Africa has committed itself to the mission to eradicate FGM/C in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030.

Special thanks to Community leaders, our partners Plan InternationalNetwork for Adolescents and Youth of Africa (NAYA KENYA), Centre for the Study of Adolescents (CSA), Amref Flying Doctors, Netherlands, County Government of Kajiado and UJAMAA AFRICA as well as Amref Health Africa in Kenya staff for making this ARP a success.

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