Every day, Maasai girls are forced into Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and early marriage.
It is a heartbreaking reality, a vicious cycle that perpetuates itself generation after generation because of tradition, perceived gender roles and poverty.
In 2014 the Kenyan government banned early marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). However, the traditional Maasai persist with their traditions of over 400 years and continue to allow early marriage and FGM. Maasai girls are forced to undergo FGM as their rite of passage into womanhood and are then married off against their will, while they are still children, to husbands that are typically much older than themselves. Not upholding these traditions can bring much social pressure and dishonor upon families.
With your help, we are working on two fronts and driving a real change in these traditional beliefs and practices. We sponsor Maasai boys into quality boarding schools that give them a good education and help them understand the consequences of FGM and early marriage. The better educated the male Maasai are, the more they will support the laws against early marriage and FGM. We have also built an Academy for Women’s and Girls’ Rights to raise awareness amongst women and girls about the new Kenyan laws and alternative non-FGM rites of passage. To learn more about our work, click here.
Poverty & Perceived Gender Roles
90% of the Maasai’s livestock were killed by starvation in 2009 when a severe drought hit the Amboseli region of Kenya. The Maasai maintain a traditional pastoral lifestyle, depending on their livestock for nutrition and source of income. Milk, in fact, is their most important source of nutrition, as their staple diet consists of milk and maize. Because of their reduced livestock, families often do not have the resources to feed and clothe all their children, and marrying off a daughter early alleviates this issue to some extent.
In addition, pastoral communities such as the Maasai do not truly perceive the value of investing in a girl’s education, who’s future is destined to be one of domestic servitude. Marrying off a daughter early therefore isn’t seen to impact her future wellbeing and is often, quite to the contrary, seen as improving her circumstances.
To alleviate the extreme form of poverty that the Maasai face, we provide families and villages with goats, a key source of income and nutrition, and we are building a Women’s Center to provide women with skills to help them improve conditions for their families. To learn more about our work, click here.
FGM, Early Marriage and Domestic Violence
Addressing the underlying causes of FGM and early marriage so as to reduce and ultimately eliminate their incidence is necessary, but will take time. In the meantime, girls are being forced into FGM and early marriage every day. To save these girls from FGM and early marriage, we built a Safe House so that these girls have a place to stay until the Chiefs or the courts settle the issue. In some cases, we find sponsors for these girls so that they may attend a boarding school.
As child brides, girls are much more likely to suffer from physical or sexual abuse by their husbands. Husbands they did not choose for themselves. As one child bride said, “If you get lucky, your husband will take care of you. I was not lucky”. The Safe House therefore also houses and protects women who are suffering from domestic abuse, until the courts or Chiefs are able to alleviate the danger, allowing them to return to their home in safety. To learn more about our work, click here.