Genital Mutilation

New Ritual Replaces Female Genital Mutilation

Tuesday, April 8, 2003

Female genital mutilation rites are beginning to be replaced by an alternative rite of passage in Kenya known as "Cutting Through Words." The new ritual includes a week of seclusion and lessons on adult life.

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Nzomo says that a single-week ceremony costs about $4,000 dollars. The funds are spent in secluding the girls, feeding them and purchasing gifts for the girls.

"We have had no problem so far and we hope to replicate it in others areas," she said.

"It is feasible and sustainable. We chose those months that traditional rites are likely to occur to stage the alternative rite," adds Eva Mukhwana, a communication officer at the National Focal Point on Female Genital Mutilation, a coalition of organizations fighting to end the rite.

Rite May Face Serious Opposition

Priscilla Nangurai, headmistress of African Inland Church Primary Boarding School in Kajiado, Kenya, attended a rite of passage ceremony in Narok, one of the areas with highest number of cases of female genital mutilation. She expressed fears that the rite may face serious opposition in some areas.

"Local women I have talked to cannot see how a tradition they have carried out for so many years can be replaced by songs and dances," she said. "They are keen to understand what kinds of gifts are given to the girls on this. They want to know what kind of T-shirts are worn during the pass out (graduation) ceremony. They laughed it off when they hear that some get only a T-shirt," she added.

Priscilla Nangurai has been rescuing young girls from circumcision and early marriage among the Maasai, a herder community, and housing them at the Kajiado African Inland Church rescue center, where they are able to complete their education. The Kajiado rescue center is one of Forum for African Women Educationalists Centres of Excellence. The other three are in Senegal, Tanzania and Rwanda.

Nangurai explained that after aggressive campaigns started by women's lobbying groups, the Maasai parents responded by lowering the age of circumcision to as young as 4 years to 13 years, instead of 6 years to 18 years--a new development that could challenge the alternative rite.

"We need to tread carefully since female genital mutilation is deeply rooted into the culture. We can end it through education, advocacy and religion," added Nangurai.

Fredrick Nzwili is a freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.

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