Maasai men drop knife, join fight against FGM

Elijah Lasiti Siron and his wife at their home in Kajiado County. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Metrine Naipanoi was 12 years old and in class six when her father forced her to undergo Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

Her mother was against it, and she divulged to her the plans which were already underway.

After hearing of the plans to force her to get the ‘cut’ in the hands of her own grandmother, Naipanoi planned to escape, but she was not lucky. Eventually, she underwent the painful procedure.

“I felt different after the cut. Even when I had the opportunity to go back to school, I stayed at home for a long time because I had lost a lot of blood and was too weak and sickly. I was stigmatised because everyone in our area knew I had almost died due to the cut,” says Naipanoi.

Her mother, Judith Parintoi, regrets not standing up for her daughter on the fateful day.

“All the women who were in our compound fled in fear when my daughter was almost dying. Nobody was left. I was frightened. I will never want to see anyone else’s daughter go through what she went through,” says Parintoi.

Thankfully, her daughter’s near-death experience changed her husband’s mind about FGM. This saved her other two daughters from undergoing the cut.

Today, eight years later, Metrine Naipanoi is a 20-year-old mother of one. Her mother Parintoi is an anti-FGM champion in her village, while her reformed father is now an ardent advocate for women empowerment and girl child education.

But it has not been easy. Parintoi says that most men still uphold FGM as a cultural practice oblivious of the harm it causes women, who in most cases have no choice.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), FGM is the partial or total removal of external female genitals or other injuries to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

Judith Parintoi in tears. She regrets not standing up for her daughter. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

This can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.

But the FGM narrative could change if men get involved, according to Parsanka Sayianka, a male champion with Il’Laramatak Community Concerns, an organisation which sensitises pastoral communities against retrogressive cultures.

Sayianka says he began fighting the FGM practice while he was in primary school where he saw girls dropping out by class seven, and, “By the time I got to secondary school, there were no girls at all,” he says.

Sayianka made up his mind to marry an educated and ‘uncut’ woman but when he started dating, his family was against his choice of women. His father adamantly insisted the girl he intended to marry had to be circumcised before marriage.

In pastoral communities, male elders are the sole custodians of tradition and Sayianka says fighting FGM meant involving them.

“We have been going around villages showing them the need to empower girls, because once one is circumcised, then early marriage follows and she soon gets pregnant and cannot go back to school,” he says.

Some men have understood the need to change retrogressive cultural practices, like Elijah Lasiti Siron.

The father of five children, four of them girls, was a staunch custodian of culture and had planned to have his girls undergo FGM.

But after sensitisation, he changed his mind, sent his girls to school and became an anti-FGM champion.

“Our girls could be doctors, teachers or other important people in society,” argues Siron, “but due to this practice, they become housewives who don’t achieve their dreams. We need to start treating our girls like our boys by educating them,” says Lasiti.

Agnes Leina, founder of the Il’Laramatak Community Concerns, mentors school-going girls.

Agnes Leina (center) speaks to young mothers at Inkinye village in Kajiado County. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

In her experience, the issue of FGM is less about the girls and more about the parents who leave their daughters without choices. She says the practice can hardly end without involving the whole community, especially men.

Leina says there is need to break the cycle of female circumcision as FGM has many ripple-effects.

“A girl who was circumcised at 14 years and gave birth, is now a grandmother at 28 after her daughter gave birth at 14 years as well,” explains Leina.

Besides involving men as champions, women circumcisers have also been roped in, according to Eve Merin, the Director of Gender and Social Services in the County government of Kajiado.

Former circumcisers are being funded to engage in agribusiness and beadwork instead of earning a living from FGM.

“This is a deliberate way of empowering these women since they used to cut the girls as a business. Therefore we are funding them to give them a new life and an alternative sustainable livelihood,” says Merin.

“However one of the challenges has been the cross-border cutting of girls in Tanzania before sneaking them back to heal in Kenya,” she adds.

Merin hopes talks between inter-border committees in the two countries will chart a way which can curb FGM for good.