350 girls graduate to womanhood and escape female genital mutilation
Dutch Ambassador to Kenya Frans Makken and his US counterpart Robert Godec yesterday joined Samburu elders in blessing 350 Samburu girls who graduated into womanhood at a colourful ceremony in Wamba, Samburu County.
The event was an Alternative Rite of Passage ceremony organised by Amref Health Africa and the Samburu community in Wamba. Traditionally, intiation of Samburu girls includes circumcision, or female genital mutilation. The Alternative Rite of Passage ensures that the girls are able to go through the initiation process without the harmful cut and early marriage.
“The Alternative Rite of Passage ceremony seeks to celebrate and preserve the rich Samburu cultural process of girls becoming women,” said Dr Meshack Ndirangu, Amref Health Africa’s Country Director for Kenya. “But what we advocate is that girls go through this process without circumcision, and that they get an opportunity to go to school and to grow up before they get married. We believe that education is the best circumcision for girls.”
The cultural elders, joined by the ambassadors, sprayed the girls with milk as a sign of blessing, with the exhortation to do continue with their education and excel in school.
The ceremony was preceded by a candle-lighting event on the previous night, where the girls, resplendent in traditional regalia, participated in a beauty pageant and showcased their knowledge of sexual and reproductive health issues, and confidence. Tina Lemeriwa, 15, was crowned Miss ARP Samburu and given the role of ARP ambassador in the community.
Ambassador Makken said that the efforts to end female genital mutilation must be sustained even after the alternative rite of passage ceremony, and encouraged the girls and the community to be strong and resolute.
After the ceremony you have to stay courageous and firm. There will still be pressures. Please don’t cut the future away, don’t cut the education away,” he stressed.
Ambassador Godec said that the American government was a strong partner for Kenya in health and education, particularly regarding the welfare of young girls and women. “FGM is violence against girls. The time has come for to end it,” he declared.
Also present at the ceremony were National Anti-FGM Board chairperson Jebii Kilimo and Amref Health Africa in Kenya Board chair Eunice Mathu and Samburu East MP Raphael Letimalo.
The Alternative Rite of Passage Programme has graduated close to 11,000 girls in Kajiado and Samburu Districts since 2013. Run by Amref Health Africa, the programme is funded by the Dutch Postcode Lottery and run in partnership with the Ministries of Health and Education.
About FGM and the Alternative Rite of Passage
In Kenya, 100,000 girls undergo FGM every year. Consequently, 21 per cent of girls and women in Kenya (around 2.5 million) have undergone the cut, according to the Kenya Demographic Health Survey 2014. This is despite the documented risks of FGM such as fatalities resulting from excessive bleeding, psychological trauma, HIV resulting from sharing of unsterilised blades and complications in childbirth.
Since 2009, Amref Health Africa has supported communities in Kajiado and Samburu counties to hold Alternative Rite of Passage (ARP) ceremonies that steer girls away from the harmful effects of female genital mutilation (FGM) and early marriage. Instead the girls are able to stay in school and to escape the death, disability and health complications brought on by FGM. So far, 10,850 girls have passed through the programme.
The biggest challenge in ending FGM has always been the fact that it is culturally entrenched, and has the backing of cultural leaders. Amref has secured the support of influential groups like Samburu elders and morans, enabling the ARP programme to grow.
Traditional birth attendants, who typically double up as female circumcisers, have also been sensitized to the harm caused by FGM and many have abandoned the practice.