Lorna Andisi is a freelance journalist and an end FGM activist.
On 23 and 24 July, the Network partnered with The Girl Generation, Il’laramatak Community Concerns, and the Kenya Rugby Union during the #Maasai7s, a rugby event held in Kajiado to create awareness about FGM and advocate for Maasai communities to drop the practice.
“My sister bled to death while being rushed to hospital, after an FGM act, 20 years ago.” painfully narrated Hon. Moses Ole Sakuda, MP Kajiado South, in an interview with members of The National Youth Anti-FGM Network.
The MP who is personally opposed to the harmful practice that robbed him of a loved one was excited to see young people not only having fun at Maasai7s, a rugby event that is usually fun-filled, but also using it as a platform to campaign against a dangerous practice that has economically affected his county.
He took this opportunity to send out a message to all elders from the community to lead in the abandonment of the practice. He jokingly complained about our small size T-Shirts since he wanted to slip into one as a show of solidarity but none could fit (Next time we will consider printing some XXLs). Nonetheless, he assured us support in terms of legislation and policy amendment at the National Assembly and also volunteered to be a male ambassador leading in the campaign against FGM.
Partnerships and awareness creation
The eve of the event started with a cup of tea around a bonfire lit by some members of The National Youth Anti-FGM Network and a few male members of the Kenya Maasai Students Association who were tasked with ensuring the ground was ready for the matches and thousands of fans expected. As we sipped the tea away, young males from the Student Association were curious to understand why we chose to undertake this campaign in their region. We took this chance to explain to them how Female Genital Mutilation leads to early marriages, teenage pregnancies, and high school dropout cases among girls in their community.
They threw in their opposing views sighting that they as an association of students in universities are advocating for girls to pursue education after the cut but discouraging early marriage. We educated them on the health implications that are likely to affect a girl who undergoes the cut. They were keen on these effects and were eager to understand better. They inquired if some of us had undergone the cut and if we were speaking from experience or mere hearsay. Some members of the network who were personally affected by this practice came up and shared their experiences whilst making them understand that this was a sheer violation of girls’ rights and an absolute violation against women. Surprisingly, they understand that FGM is unlawful but they still view it as a reservation of their culture. They are bright boys from various schools pursuing smart careers as well as respected Morans in their communities, but it was still hard to convince some of them that FGM is wrong.
Over the course of the night, the conversation grew deeper and trust earned. One of the members from the association confessed that he noticed a difference between sex with an uncut girl and a cut girl. The rest unanimously agreed with him however making jokes around that fact. By the end of the night, the university students finally agreed to include us in their programs and we agreed to bring them on board to help end FGM in their community and our country. The Association consists of 16,000 student members from different counties in Kajiado, mainly Samburu, Narok, Laikipia, Isiolo, Marsabit, Baringo and Nairobi. They are mainly working to keep children in schools and occasionally address on matters affecting their communities such as land, cattle rustling, and security among others. They admit that they have never touched on FGM as a subject of discussion, however the president of the Association agreed to bring together his team with ours and continue the discussion.
The two day event kicked off the following day. Our activism started. We wore T-Shirts and carried around banners that communicated messages urging everyone to join in the campaign to end FGM. The message was written in Swahili, ‘Pamoja Tukomemeshe Ukeketaji’ meaning ‘Together Let’s End FGM’.
Present was Miss Tourism Kajiado, Sation Parmuat and Miss Tourism Kenya, Wendy Bella, who were promoting the county as a tourism destination due to its rich culture and diverse resources. They too joined in the campaign occasionally adorning our T-shirts and even leading the dialogue with the community members in their local dialect. They agreed to partner with us to fight FGM in Maasailand and Kenya as a whole. Sation, was born and raised in Kajiado South. She narrowly escaped the cut and would love to save many more girls to rightfully escape the cut and pursue education. She has set out to be a role model to young girls in her county.
The chairman of the Community Rugby Association, Mr. Blessed Were, requested us to embrace the need to work with the young male rugby players from the community and use them as change agents and champions at the community level. This was an opportunity that we were happy to welcome.
The event was also the beginning of great partnership with Il’laramatak Community Concerns, a community based organization that partnered with us for the cause. Il laramatak is working to empower girls/women and transform lives in Kajiado. It was founded by Agnes Leina who is also a board member at the Kenya Anti-FGM Board.
The National Youth Anti-Fgm Network is also appreciating its strong partnership with The Girl Generation, a global campaign that supports an Africa-led movement to end FGM. The Girl Generation, whose vision is to end FGM in one generation, pioneered in the founding of the network and has since then trained the members on Social Change Communication, a technique that is helping the members in outlining campaign strategies that are aimed at influencing behavior change at the individual level. A possible strategy in achieving sustainability and development since it places the people of the community in the center of the communication process. The members through intensive training by The Girl Generation have also been equipped with Monitoring and Evaluation skills, which are skills that help them asses their campaign activities.
A section of the fans who did not know much about FGM and child marriage were keen to understand the message on our banners and T-shirts. We took time to explain to them. We also reached out to fans from the community who listened to us and appreciated our cause. They agreed to help in ending the practice.
It was wonderful to see young girls from local primary schools also playing rugby against each other. They were glad to see us campaigning against FGM, a practice that has kept some of their peers out of school. They told us of how sometimes it is hard to rescue their friends since their parents do it secretly. They also said that kids of parents who oppose the practice are warned from associating with those that still uphold the practice as they are viewed as ‘bad company’. They also pointed out that some of them agree to undergo the cut so as to fit in among friends and peers. ‘We know of the consequences of FGM, but what do we do?’ pointed out one of the girls. We provided them emergency numbers and contacts of a few local rescue centers. They asked us to reach their fathers and mothers since it is them who plan for the cut and the ceremony. Some of them expressed their fears of undergoing the cut as the August holiday is upon us!
Currently civil societies in Kajiado drafted amendments on the law prohibiting FGM, pointing out that it does not give solutions on the educational and sensitization aspect of FGM as a violation of human rights. It only criminalizes the act forgetting it’s a cultural practice that communities can only drop if they are educated that it is wrong. The final draft is at its ultimate discussion process and will hopefully be launched soon. This is an achievement that the Hon Ole Sakuda requested us to be a part of.
The Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) is considering a partnership with us to end FGM in the country. We are at the beginning of talks to a great partnership where the Union is keen on having FGM eradication as their cause. The rugby sport in this country has continued its upward trajectory over the last 15 years or so, and continues to attract large audiences each weekend as the popularity of the game continues to grip the attention of the nation.
FGM among the Maasai
In the Maasai community, circumcision is a rite of passage. It is a clear step between childhood and adulthood. Once a woman undergoes circumcision, she is ready for marriage. The Maasai believe that the practice helps reduce immorality among girls.
Because of the negativity surrounding discussion of the practice, many Maasai are not willing to talk about the practice in public.
Many Maasai families cannot afford to give their children formal schooling, so to protect their daughters from lives of poverty they choose to marry them off at a young age. Because Maasai girls are traditionally considered children until they are circumcised, it is seen as imperative for a Maasai girl to undergo the circumcision rite before she is married. This strongly ingrained cultural belief propels families to go to great lengths to complete the circumcision.
The Maasai believe that circumcision further helps improve people’s morality because it reduces sexual urges, preventing cases of girls engaging in sex before marriage and giving birth out of wedlock. The Maasai do not perform the practice to harm people, but rather out of love and care for their people, because they are truly concerned about their people’s morality.
The circumcision ceremony takes place in early morning. The girl first bathes with cold water, and then the operation is carried out. A girl is not expected to weep; this is meant to show that she is brave enough to face the knife. This gives her fame and respect from the community at large and she becomes a role model for the younger girls to emulate.
Female circumcision is a time-honored practice from the Maasai point of view, but it should be stopped for the betterment of the Maasai girls. Despite the Maasai’s objectives in performing female circumcision, the disadvantages of the practice are increasing. People who have undergone FGM not only suffer physically, but also psychologically due to the trauma of the incident, and also because of the stigma it has obtained.
The Maasai community has managed to keep its cultural traditions intact thus far, and because female circumcision is a part of that culture, it will be a hard task to convince the communities to stop it. But if the Maasai community were to be informed of the disadvantages of female circumcision, we believe the practice could be eliminated gradually.