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Where girls strut catwalks instead of facing the ‘cut’

Evelyn Makena @evemake_g

Dressed in the finest traditional Maasai attire and beautiful jewellery, young Maasai girls break into song and dance on a starry night. The girls exude confidence as they sashay down an imaginary runway in front of a panel of judges.

Later in the night, under the shade of short acacia trees, winners of the beauty contest are announced attracting more celebratory frenzy. Gathering in a circle, the girls light candles and with beaming faces sing in unison: “Put out the fire of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), light the fire of education.”

With this brief exercise that serves as an alternative rite of passage, girls in Najile location, Kajiado West constituency, have transitioned from childhood to adulthood without necessarily undergoing FGM as has been the custom in Maasai community.

The ceremony is the culmination of over a year of training on issues of sexual reproductive health, dangers of FGM and human rights and a two-day refresher course under the ‘Yes I Do’ programme by Amref-Kenya, Centre for Study of Adolescents and Plan International.

As the world celebrated the International Day of zero tolerance to FGM yesterday, February 6, this is one of the programmes geared towards ending the harmful practice. Unlike her two elder sisters, Jackline Esinke, winner of the beauty contest, escaped the harmful practice owing to the programme.

“I was meant to undergo FGM after completing Class Eight in 2016, but my mother who had learnt about the harms of the practice through this programme would not allow it,” she says.

Unfortunately, her elder sisters underwent the ‘cut’ and got married before her mother got enlightened about the dangers of FGM. Jackline is among a dozen of other girls in Kajiado who have been spared the ‘cut’ due to changed perceptions on FGM.

The Form Two student at a high school in Bomet is optimistic that she will achieve her dream of becoming a doctor. For this change of behaviour to be achieved, it has taken involvement of the entire community.

Besides talking to girls in schools and villages the programme involves elders, morans, female circumcisers and women in the community. “Elders are the custodians of culture in the community and thus have the final word on what is done.

The morans on the other hand must be educated on the need to accept uncircumcised girls as wives when the right time comes,” says Millicent Ondigo, Project Officer ‘Yes I Do’, Kajiado West.

The female circumcisers who depend on the ‘cut’ to earn a livelihood are also educated on the harms of the practice while the women who, out of love present their daughters to be cut, have to be given reason to shun the practice.

The collective approach has helped reduce teenage pregnancies, curb school drop outs and discouraged early marriages. “Undergoing FGM is interpreted to mean that you are an adult and so one can engage in sex.

This results in early pregnancies and dropping out of school,” says Millicent. Besides undergoing the ‘cut’ also means a girl is ready for marriage. This has led to disillusionment and unrealised potential among girls who become wives at a tender age.

The following day, a big celebration is held to mark the transitioning of the girls into adulthood. Morans perform the entertaining jumping dance, graduates of the programme are gifted with stationery and elders speak blessings to the girls as parents nod in agreement.

“This is perhaps the biggest indication that the once deeply-entrenched tradition is perpetually waning and various groups in the community are part of the change,” says Beatrice Kosia, Assistant chief Ewaso Kedong sub-location, Najile location.

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