Christmas, the circumcision season….part II

I have, in a rather obsessive way, followed the female genital mutilation sagas in the leading paper in Kenya, The Nation, for the last two weeks. Like I said in my last blog, Christmas is the circumcision season in Kenya due to the long school holidays that last about 6 weeks. Here I present a digest of the Christmas circumcision season 2014.

In some cases, the reports are good. Like the ones from Meru, where the alternative rites of passage have really made an impact.  What has made the Meru scheme so successful is that the whole community has bought into it and are involved. In Tharaka Nithi, 300 girls camped at the Catholic church……


alterntive rite-tharaka nithi

In Kericho, they are hoping to emulate the success in Meru and successfully saw 100 girls go through an alternative rite and are feted……..


kericho-alternative rites


Other regions have not been left out.


maasai against FGM


And for the first time, there is an advert on a daily basis in the newspaper, funded by UNFPA, asking people to call the chief, police or a hotline number to report FGM occurrences.


UNFPA advert to report


Perhaps because of this, circumcisers have been jailed. However, this push to jail circumcisers does not appear to have the support of the locals and in this case among the Maasai of Narok, 4 circumcisers were set free from a police station by 100 villagers who demanded their release.


villagers free circumiser


The girl had actually undergone an alternative rite of passage, but the family was not impressed by it and so felt the need to take her for the ‘real thing’. But because perhaps of that training, she was able, at only 10, to find a way out of getting cut – at least she knew where to look for help.

Some stories show our confusion –  families are on the run this Christmas for fear of being jailed after circumcising their girls


hunt for families who cut


I truly see no value in jailing parents of these girls – someone show me the logic in this please. A girl has been circumcised already, she needs to go back to school, her siblings also need to be protected, what is the logic of withdrawing her parents from her and leaving her truly destitute? North-Eastern province has a circumcision prevalence of 97% – what is the government going to do then – put all the parents in jail? It’s like this stupid thing I keep hearing about jailing parents for not taking their children to school or for not vaccinating their children – what problems have you created in this process?

….but I digress…….

Circumcisers have gone under, leaving their initiates unattended…..


circumcisers vanish


And worse still, because local circumcisers are getting scared, parents are importing circumcisers from Tanzania. When I saw this headline story, that about 800 girls run away from home to avoid the cut, I could not quite believe it. Just imagine 800 girls camping in churches compounds with 24-hour protection in a bid to avoid circumcision? I thought – ‘surely not that many’…..until I saw another figure in this article. That 3,000 girls have been circumcised this Christmas season alone, in one small region of Kenya. ‘Professional circumcisers,’ the article said, are crossing from Tanzania to Kenya to do the job – while some parents are taking their daughters to Tanzania for the cut.


800 girls run from cut


BUT, clearly, criminalising female circumcision is not working. Using hotlines to report FGM and then having circumcisers or parents jailed is a lost cause. To have lasting behaviour change in a community requires a buy in from the people involved. You cannot continue to use NGO’s and the long arm of the law to arm-twist people to change behaviour. If people are not convinced by the reasons you are giving them to change, you can shout yourself hoarse and you will get nowhere….read this, from today’s paper…..


elders say yes to fgm


The elders from Samburu met and decided FGM will stay. If people say FGM leads to early marriage – they have made it clear that the girls will go back to school after circumcision. If you cannot convince these elders of the value of ending FGM without putting their culture down – without showing disrespect – then you are heading nowhere.

The Meru alternative rites of passage have worked very well in that region – but they have respectfully involved the whole community, especially the men. The girl from Narok who managed to escape her circumcisers had been through these rites and felt empowered enough to handle an escape – yet she was only 10 years old.

The Samburu council of elders appear not to have been involved at all in the campaigns to end FGM and if they were, their thoughts were not valued.

Listen to the issues the elders raised

  • This has been part of our culture for many years
  • We are born of circumcised women
  • NGO and the government should stop telling us to stop without giving us a good reason why

It would be a pity if Christmas 2015 finds us reporting that thousands of girls were circumcised in Kenya. Let this be the last time this happens. Let’s stop this high-headedness and listen to those on the ground – involve them – let them lead – not some NGO group that they cannot relate to – unless of course, we just want to keep collecting money for our NGO’s and not really end FGM.