Female Genital Mutilation: Kenya’s worst-kept secret

Thirty-seven of the 42 tribal communities among the Maasai in Kenya still practice Female Genital Mutilation. The preferential age for the procedure used to be 15 – now it’s done to 11-year-olds. Despite a ban on it in 2011, more than 500 girls in Narok County drop out of school every year because of Female Genital Mutilation and early marriage.

In remote rural areas of the Rift Valley – in the dark of the night, behind closed doors – whispering cutters and elders mutilate young girls and marry them off before they have even hit their teens.

The procedure they undergo is traumatic, frightening and life threatening, and if it is not performed, girls are considered impure. The “extra women bits” are considered dirty and responsible for any promiscuity that may cause the young girls to cheat on their new, older, polygamous husbands. Circumcision is believed to ensure the young girls never stray and that their sexual urge has been reduced and their “bad” blood “purified”.

Death is commonplace, says Patrick Ngigi, a former teacher who runs a haven for girls: “There are some cases where the girls die and they die because of excessive bleeding. There is nobody, no qualified medic – the people who are performing the circumcision are not qualified, they are just women in the village. So they don’t know how to stop the bleeding and sometimes the girls end up bleeding to death. I believe that the girls need to go to school and they need education. They don’t need to undergo FGM to become adults.”

How does one stop an excruciating and chilling traditional practice entrenched in the custom and belief of elders and traditional leaders? Just one, young, educated girl at a time.

Female Genital Mutilation is a cultural tradition that involves altering or mutilating the female genitalia for “hygienic” or aesthetic reasons and is recognised as a human rights violation.

The 2011 ban made the practice and capture of young girls for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Kenya illegal, but it is still widespread even though research indicates a 20% drop in the practice.

Benedictor Sintoyia Koikai is a 14-year-old poet and performer living among the Maasai people in Olepolos village in Narok County. She believes her sexuality is “a special gift from God, worthy of respecting and protecting”. She penned a poem: “Aha to my fellow Kenyans, following tradition in the name of norms, abusing girl child’s rights with the excuse of being a rite of passage… As patriotic Kenyans let’s unite and totally eradicate this so-called FGM.”

Her family has decided against the tradition and so she has made it her place to advocate against it for her peers and fellow Maasai teens. She writes poetry denouncing the practice as abusive.

As an aspiring accountant she feels bad when she hears about cases of traditional circumcision. I wish that I could take those girls and go with them to a home and they continue their education because education is the key to succeed in life.”

Benedictor realises she has the freedom to make the choice against Female Genital Mutilation.

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By Ashlegh Hamilton

Photo: Georgina Goodwin