Isele is fortunate. Her parents chose not to circumcise her and her two sisters. Isele has friends who have faced a different fate. An International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation took place on 6 February.
13-year-old Isele has a clear opinion on female circumcision: it is unnecessary and wrong.
– Look at me. I have not been circumcised and I’m still OK.
Isele is lucky that her Christian parents agree. That is why their three daughters have not been circumcised, even though the Ntins belong to the Maasai people, who favour circumcision. Their two sons, however, have been circumcised.
– Unfortunately, most of my friends are not as lucky as I am. They are circumcised and married young, and they are not able to finish their schooling.
Their parents think that girls cannot achieve the same as boys, Isele explains sadly.
– Some are able to escape to a safety house, but most of them cannot.
In some families, it is the opposite situation: parents are not forcing their child to attend the cutting, but the girl herself demands it and runs away to her relatives or friends for cutting. The reasons include fear of not getting married if not circumcised as well as ignorance of the risks of the procedure.
– Thankfully things are changing. At school, the students are told that cutting girls is not right. Even in our village there are more and more parents who do not take their daughters for cutting. I just wish it would stop altogether, Isele dreams.
Female genital mutilation is a tradition spanning thousands of years and cultural and religious borders. The purpose of mutilating young girls is to guarantee that they remain virgins until marriage and remain faithful. Uncircumcised girls may be branded as having loose morals, which makes them less than ideal wife material.
The adverse effects of mutilation tradition to a girl’s mental and physical health are obvious, and all the countries that have ratified the UN Charter of Children’s Rights have also committed to abolishing circumcision. Female genital mutilation violates the right of a child to bodily integrity.
Aiming for mutilation-free villages
Fida’s cooperation project in Kenya helps Maasai girls who have escaped violent mutilation. The work also includes a preventative aspect: the local churches are equipped to advocate for girls’ rights in villages, where the mutilation tradition continues strong. Four villages have training in place for alternative transition rites, which hopefully will replace these painful traditions in the future.
Fida lobbies widely to stop female genital mutilation in seven Eastern African countries. At the core of the impact are churches, which advocate for the weakest in their communities.