Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) violates a girl's human rights

It also breaks Kenyan law. Female genital mutilation (FGM) has been illegal for girls under 18 in Kenya since 2002, when the Children’s Act came into force, and for everyone since 2011, when the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act 2011 came into force.

Yet almost 90% of Maasai girls undergo female genital mutilation (FGM). Every day, Maasai girls are forced into FGM and early marriage. It is a heartbreaking reality, a vicious cycle that perpetuates itself generation after generation because of extreme poverty, tradition and perceived gender roles that severely limit the Maasai girl's likelihood of getting an education.

Extreme Poverty

Most Maasai live in extreme poverty, on $0.35 a day

Tradition

Over 90% of Maasai girls celebrate their rite of passage to womanhood between the ages of 11 and 14

Lack of Education

Under 20% of Maasai girls enroll in primary school, less than 1 in 5 complete it, and less than 1 in 15 go on to secondary school

Rites of Passage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
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The Maasai rite of passage ceremony for girls is traditionally a joyful event in which the entire community comes together to celebrate their passage from childhood to adulthood. It is a cultural practice, not a religious practice. There is revelry and feasting, dancing and singing. There is also, however, the circumcision rite.

The female circumcision, or female genital mutilation (FGM), is traditionally a crucial part of the Maasai girl’s rite of passage. The Maasai believe that until a girl goes through FGM, she remains a child and is therefore unfit to marry. As most Maasai families believe it is in their daughters’ best economic interests to marry, they go to great lengths to have FGM performed at young ages on their daughters. Most girls dread the pain, but look forward to ‘becoming a woman’. There is a real fear of the social repercussions and dishonor that is brought about by remaining uncircumcised. As one Maasai girl told IRIN News:

 

"If you are not cut, no one wants to talk to you; the girls and boys in school laugh at you because you are still a child. […] No man will want to marry or have sex with you if you are not cut."

Source: IRIN News, an organization committed to independent reporting from the frontlines of crises. Read more at http://bit.ly/2GTwyFJ.

 

There is also a firmly held belief that female genital mutilation (FGM) preserves a girl’s virtue by reducing a girl’s desire for sex, making it less likely for her to engage in premarital sex or adultery.

Maasai girls typically celebrate their rite of passage to womanhood between the ages of 11 and 14. A traditional female circumciser is responsible for the procedure, and often performs it on several girls in the community on the same day. A paste made from cow dung and milk fat is then applied to the cut to stop the bleeding.

The procedure itself is called clitoridectomy. Immediate risks include severe bleeding leading to death, infection due to poor sanitary conditions and HIV transmission due to sharing of instruments. The long-term effects of FGM include chronic infections of the reproductive parts, pain during sexual intercourse, and difficulties in childbirth that can lead to stillbirths.

After female genital mutilation (FGM), girls go into a period of seclusion to recover from the procedure and to be educated on their rights and duties as a Maasai woman. They are taught how to prepare food, how to take care of the home, how to raise children and how to look after their future husbands. The end of this period of seclusion is marked by celebrations welcoming the girls into womanhood. The girls, now women, are then eligible for marriage.

Because female genital mutilation is illegal in Kenya, many families are now circumcising girls are very young ages, before authorities start checking on them. Some families even have FGM done before the rite of passage ceremony, so that when authorities arrive to enforce the law, girls are already circumcised and nothing can be done.

As the Maasai find new ways to preserve their tradition and resist external pressures to change their ways, the effectiveness of solutions based entirely on law enforcement diminishes. We must work with all members of the Maasai community to find alternative rite of passage ceremonies that are recognized by the community but that do not require female genital mutilation (FGM).

Early Marriage
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In 2014, Kenya passed The Marriage Act, which forbids girls being married before the age of 18. Despite the fact that this laws now exists, many male Maasai government chiefs have refused to stop early marriages and have not informed Maasai women and girls of their new rights under the new law.

Why are Maasai girls married at such an early age?

Economic Incentives

A daughter’s marriage increases her parent’s wealth through the dowry they receive and by relieving them of the cost of supporting her.

Fear of Early Pregnancy

Traditional practices make Maasai girls highly vulnerable to becoming pregnant, and premarital pregnancy brings disgrace and a reduced dowry.

Social Pressure

There is much-perceived honor in becoming a woman, marrying with one’s virtue intact and bearing children for one’s husband.

Lack of Education
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Attending a private boarding school, where the girls are educated, housed and fed during the school semester, significantly decreases the chances that these girls be submitted to female genital mutilation (FGM) and early marriage.

Most Maasai girls dream of going to school, but rarely have the opportunity to do so. Why?

 

Maasai child in Amboseli Kenya1. Economic Costs:

Private boarding schools are prohibitively expensive for most Maasai families. Public elementary schools in Kenya don’t charge tuition fees, but do require families to provide school uniforms for their children. Even this cost can be prohibitive for the Maasai, who live in extreme poverty. Even when families can afford a school uniform, they might not be able to afford uniforms for all their children and therefore need to choose which will be fortunate enough to go to school. Boys are usually favored first.

In addition, by sending girls to school instead of marrying them off, families forego the cattle that are received as dowry in exchange for their marriage.

 

Maasai child milking galla goat in Amboseli Kenya

2. Perceived Gender Roles:

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. And because when a girl marries, she joins her husband’s family, parents often fail to see what benefits they will reap from their daughter’s education. Marrying a daughter early isn’t seen to impact her future wellbeing and is often, quite to the contrary, seen as improving her circumstances. It is also considered to be a means of protecting her virtue, as it reduces the likelihood of her falling pregnant before marriage.

 

Maasai boma village3. Long Distances:

For those girls fortunate enough to be enrolled in public elementary schools, these are often located miles away from their homes. The distances they must walk to get there and back every day often make it unsafe for girls to go to school, especially at younger ages. When they do make it to school, they are often very tired and therefore at a disadvantage to concentrate and learn.

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