‘I can be president without the cut!’ declares Maasai girl

Female circumcision has no part in my vision for the future, says Shiluni Shrim

Twelve-year-old Shiluni Shirim may be small in stature, but she has a voice and a vision that cannot be ignored.

Standing confidently at the front of a room filled with national stakeholders in the fight against female genital mutilation (FGM), Shiluni asked parents and community leaders to protect girls from FGM because it has many negative effects, and no positive ones at all.

“I did not go through FGM. Instead I went through the Alternative Rite of Passage organised by Amref Health Africa. Before I went for the ARP training, I did not know the dangers of FGM. Now I do, and I tell other girls about it. I wish that many more girls could go through ARP.”

Shiluni was speaking at a roundtable breakfast meeting organised today by Amref Health Africa themed Stop the Cut: Joining hands to protect our girls from the horrors of Female Genital Mutilation. The meeting, held at a Nairobi hotel, was a precursor to the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM marked on February 6. Shiluni was crowned Miss ARP 2015 at a beauty pageant organised for graduates of the alternative rite of passage programme.

The Chairperson of the Kenya National Anti-FGM Board, Hon Jebii Kilimo, said that although there had been a decline in the prevalence of FGM in the country, it was still high at 21%. She stressed the importance of education and awareness in pushing the prevalence down.

“We need to demystify FGM through education of the girls and of the community. Education and the law are like the two wings of a bird. With these we will get rid of harmful activities like FGM, and our girls will be able to soar high and reach their destinations,” said Kilimo.

Amref Health Africa’s Group CEO, Dr Githinji Gitahi, said the organisation Amref Health Africa had been supporting affected communities to take a lead in ending FGM with increasing success.

Said Dr Gitahi: “Our community-led Alternative Rite of Passage programme targets reduction and eradication of both FGM and early marriage, which go hand-in-hand among the Maasai and Samburu communities. We have engaged the traditional leadership in these two communities since 2009 in initiatives to replace FGM with the Alternative Rite of Passage. In the last seven years, 9,515 girls have gone through the programme, 8,000 of these from Kajiado and about 600 from Samburu.”

He called for the inclusion of harmful traditional practices in the national curriculum, which is currently being revised. “If FGM is discussed early in schools, the girls and boys will grow up knowing that it is wrong. Amref Health Africa is ready to provide technical support for this since we have years of experience in this area,” he said.

Other speakers at the meeting included Mr Peter Mwenda, a senior prosecutor in charge of the anti-FGM unit at the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions; Marianne Nyangi, Head of Chase Bank Women; Dorothy Mashipei of the office of the Deputy President; and various community members including Alternative Rite of Passage graduates, a Maasai moran and an elder, and former female circumcisers who now crusade against FGM.