AMREF Health Africa in Tanzania has in five years saved 2,090 girls from undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM) among the Maasai community in Tanga Region. It has also transformed cultural traditional rites that promote FGM and early marriage among Maasai girls in Handeni and Kilindi districts.
As a result, many Maasai girls will be relieved of early pregnancy, early marriage and associated diseases like sexually transmitted diseases and fistula.
Elderly women, who used to perpetuate FGM, have changed their mindset and now engage in other sources of income, thanks to support from Amref Health in Africa Tanzania in collaboration with the local government.
“We have given up this traditional practice that involved Maasai girls, who are often subjected to untold pain and other health complications. We are now engaged in a goat rearing project to earn a living,” said Ms Maria Simba, one of the perpetuators of FGM, believed in some tribes to be an entry rite to womanhood.
Ms Simba was explaining this rite of passage from girlhood to womanhood in Handeni District’s Bongi Village last month. She said apart from being a Maasai practice, cutting girls’ private parts was one the ways of earning a living in cash or in kind, but “we have given it up after getting an alternative means of earning income.”
“Besides educating us on the consequences of FGM, Amref Health Africa in Tanzania gave us 22 goats in 2017, which we are keeping as an alternative means of earning a living.”
Amref Health Africa in Tanzania Project Manager, Dr Aisha Byanaku, said for the five years, thousands of girls had been saved from FGM after Maasai women were educated on the side-effects of FGM and after being educated on an alternative means of earning income.
She said four women had been trained by Amref Health Africa in Tanzania in positive alternative practices for girls’ passage to womanhood that were friendly to their wellbeing.
“We gave them 22 diary and meat goats purchased at about 1.5m/- in 2017. They have now increased the number to 64. This has facilitated greatly to public awareness on the adverse effects of FGM on girls and their future,” she said.
Dr Byanaku added that thousands of Maasai girls in Handeni District, who had been rescued from FGM, would have an opportunity to go to school instead of being married off while they were still young.
For Kilindi District, Amref Health in Africa in Tanzania collaborated with the local government to provide water, sanitation and hygiene (Wash) services in eight wards to end cultural practices that were detrimental to girls and women. Efforts were made to practise alternative practices to FGM among nomadic communities.
“The project started in 2016 and aimed at ending FGM through equipping girls and women of reproductive age of 15-49 years with sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) knowledge among the Maasai community,” said Dr Jane Sempeo, Amref Health Africa in Tanzania Project Manager.
Dr Sempeo said further that community members moved seasonally looking for water for their herds among them being peer educators.
“The project also constructs pit latrines and rain water harvesting systems at schools, health facilities and market places and boreholes. This was after it came to be known that the provision of water sources will make peer educators sedentary, hence continue with awareness raising.”
In a success story, Dr Sempeo said in 2020 alone, 300 girls graduated to womanhood through the alternative rite of passage (ARP), which retained the cultural celebration of girls’ transition to womanhood without undergoing FGM and early or forced marriage.
A good gesture of support from the government in ending FGM practices in Kilindi and Handeni district, officials, village elders, morans, parents and religious leaders joined Amref Health Africa Tanzania and supported the noble work.
“Stop FGM-Elimisha is the name of the project in Handeni whereby last year alone, 450 girls graduated to womanhood through ARP, which retains the cultural celebration of girls’ transition to womanhood without undergoing FGM,” said Dr Aisha Byanaku.
She said the goal of the project was to eliminate FGM in Handeni District and introduce an alternative rite of passage ceremony and family/household models that embraced dialogue and all positive traditional rites of passage except FGM.
“As Christian Maasai community, we are against FGM and we will be good ambassadors of ending FGM for it is not in the Scriptures. I have read the Bible and no single verse promotes FGM,” said Mr Joseph Moseka, a pastor with the Mennonite Church in Handeni District.
Handeni District Commissioner Toba Nguvila promised various government interventions to ensure nomadic girls were also helped to be themselves.
He told this paper that it was time all school-aged girls were sent to school, while those living far from school were given alternative ways of catching up with classes.
“I have already directed the district education officer to establish mobile classes for nomadic girls living far from school.”
Article first published on dailynews.co.tz