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Female Genital Cutting

Female genital cutting (FGC) affects thousands of Maasai girls every year, with devastating physical and emotional consequences.

In Kenya, 90% of Maasai girls are cut, which involves the removal of the clitoris, the labia minora and the partial or total removal of the labia majora. This has serious health consequences: it can cause death at the time of the cut; endangers mother and child during childbirth; and increases the risk of sepsis, fistulas and vaginal prolapse. Scarring renders sex painful and the psychosocial trauma of FGC has a profound effect on women throughout their lives.

Maasai culture is patriarchal and women are valued for their roles as mothers and wives, with Maasai women entirely dependent on their husbands financially. Once cut at age 12 or 13, girls often quickly marry, leave school and have children, limiting their own life opportunities. Maasai women do not have access to any resources without a husband and, without being cut, a Maasai woman is ostracised from her culture. This makes FGC a social convention which women rarely abandon. By preserving the tradition of FGC, parents believe that they are acting in the best interest of their daughters. Making FGC illegal can’t stop it happening. Projects that enforce FGC abandonment without respecting cultural traditions fail. Laws have little effect on the custom amongst indigenous communities where members fear cultural exclusion more than prosecution. Projects designed to help girls escape FGC do not offer a lasting solution to the practice as they destabilise the strong community bonds that could create sustainable change.

S.A.F.E.’s unique FGC abandonment programme is culturally accepted as a result of being devised and led by our totally Maasai team SAFE Maa. We have developed an Alternative Rite of Passage to replace FGC that enables a girl to transition to womanhood and enjoy the benefits of full inclusion in Maasai society without being cut. Using performance and outreach work, SAFE Maa sensitively challenges this ancient tradition. We have reached over 30,000 people and trained half of all the Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs – the women who perform FGC) in the region in the Alternative Rite.

In 2015, our FGC Projects are:

FGC abandonment project in the Maasai Loita Hills: S.A.F.E.’s flagship programme is our long-running work to end FGC in the Loita Hills, a remote and rural Maasai community in south-west Kenya with a population of 35-40,000. It has no roads or communication infrastructure and its inaccessibility has maintained relative isolation, limiting the spread of new ideas and attitudes. In Loita, FGC has remained a deeply entrenched cultural practice maintained by both women and men. S.A.F.E. has been working in this area to change attitudes towards FGC since 2008 and 2014 marked a critical moment for this programme. With generous support from the JA Clark Foundation and other donors, throughout 2015 we will consolidate our progress to date and work to reach a tipping point so that a public declaration against FGC can be made in the next few years. When this is done, girls and women for generations to come will be protected against the violence of FGC.

FGC abandonment project in Aitong and the Maasai Mara: In 2014, with generous support from Kicheche Camps and Exodus Travel, we began to replicate our FGC-abandonment work with the Maasai community in the Maasai Mara. Two senior members of SAFE Maa spent a week in the Mara in June to identify performance sites, meet schools and establish partnerships. Kicheche, who hosted the team during this time, has one of the most robust community outreach programmes in the Mara, and their trusted relationships and contacts enabled SAFE Maa to quickly establish good partnerships.

FGC abandonment project with the Samburu: After a very successful initial partnership with The Safari Collection and Team Talk in 2013, we returned to Samburu in November 2014 to deliver education about HIV and FGC abandonment with the Samburu. During this weeklong SAFE Maa tour of Samburu, the main priority was to bring the Westgate Umbrella Youth Group together to work with SAFE Maa, with the aim of launching SAFE Samburu. An addition to the program was the introduction of workshops with some of the women from the Women’s Groups to delve more deeply into the topics of HIV and FGC. The women were so appreciative of spending a whole day with the group and asked lots of insightful questions. Over the week, the Youth Group was exposed to lots of new information and ideas, which they all seemed to embrace. As part of the training they watched SAFE Maa do the full performance in three different locations. The warriors listened when the SAFE Maa men talked with the elders and likewise the girls took part in the gatherings with the women. We intend to return to Samburu again in 2015 to develop this project and burgeoning team further.