More girls escape FGM in Kajiado county as community embraces alternative rites of passage
Kajiado County in Kenya has seen more girls continue with their education following an increase in the adoption of Alternative Rites of Passage (ARP).
The revelation was made during an ARP training camp in Kajiado County. During the training, young boys and girl from the community were taken through various activities aimed at eradicating Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
Over the course of the four days, both boys and girls where trained on sexual reproductive health, with lessons on body changes, sexually transmitted diseases and how to take care of their bodies as they experience the changes. The program also sought to tackle the challenges that girls and boys face while undergoing puberty within their community.
Speaking during the event Peter Ofware, director of the Reproductive, Maternal and Child Health Programme at Amref Health Africa said that teaching both boys and girls that they had the right to decide how to take care of their bodies would ultimately be beneficial since they would both help in breaking the FGM norm in the community.
“The decision to undergo the cut is a cultural rite of passage that gives social standing within the community putting both initiates and their parents under pressure to conform. Similarly, boys are encouraged to only marry girls who have undergone the cut, hence the need to include the boys in the program. The aim is to destigmatize those who have not undergone the cut by encouraging boys to break this tradition and marry women who have not gone through the cut when they come of age. Amref Health Africa is an advocate for reproductive health for both boys and girls,” said Ofware.
In some Kenyan communities, female circumcision FGM is a common practice associated with transition from a girl’s childhood to adulthood and paves the way for early marriage. Kenya’s FGM prevalence rate stands at over 20 per cent with the practice often leading to the loss of life due to excessive bleeding, infections and later complications during birth.
Of greater concern is the fact that girls as young as 9 to 10 years old undergo the cut leading to underage marriage and pregnancies. As a result, additional emphasis is being put on replacing FGM with ARP borrowing from key cultural practices and norms of the host communities. The aim is to preserve and retain good cultural values such as sexual and reproductive health education and blessings by the elders while keeping girls in school longer. ARP ceremonies observe and respect the community’s tradition and ensure girls graduate to womanhood without undergoing the cut.
Earlier this year Amref Health Africa partnered with USAID to launch the Koota Injena (Come let us talk) program where Amref is working with clan elders to stop FGM and end child marriages in Samburu and Marsabit counties. Clan elders are gatekeepers and custodians of culture in their communities, and this approach will help to make inroads in dealing with the issues of FGM in the two counties.
“We will be successful if we fight collectively against FGM. Every child has a right to enjoy their youth and have an education. Parents who marry off their children early are in violation of the law and should be encouraged to help their children realise their full potential. As we have seen from the various activities, our children have different talents and potential which should be natured” added Millicent Ondigo, acting project manager of the Yes I Do Alliance.
The event in Olentoko also saw a local Community Based Organisation (CBO) trained on how to make reusable sanitary pads. Access to sanitary pads is a big problem in the community and hence the need to come up with interventions to improve access. The CBO would in turn transfer the skills to the girls in their different environments.
FGM poses significant health risks, including bleeding, infections, and complications during childbirth.