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Franklin Mutumba: Surviving ‘The Cut’ in Kenya

July 17, 2015

Over the decades, clitoridectomy (female genital mutilation – FGM*) has been  part and parcel of way of life for some several communities here in Africa and various other parts of the world.  Some of the societies are engaged to the affair as a form of control, whilst for others it is for initiation from childhood to adulthood.  *See Statement on FGM

My main focus here is Kenya. FGM hotspots in Kenya are mostly within the pastoralist communities. This is due to isolation from civilization and also lack of attention from the authorities. Most notable amongst these  communities are the Maasai, Samburu, Turkana and Pokot.

Although FGM is illegal in Kenya, FGM traditionalists carry out  the practice hundreds of times annually, while the law is rarely applied against practitioners and parents who make their girls undergo the procedure. Almost 100%  of girls above the age of 15 have undergone FGM.

As the fight against FGM is something very close to my heart, I decided to research why the Maasai conducted the activit.

I asked one of the community elders, who had no hesitation in narrating eloquently and full of confidence this theory of Naipei. “She was a young girl who had an intercourse with the enemy of her family and her punishment came in the form of ‘circumcision’ [his word]. The decision her family took was to prevent her from feeling the urges that led her to commit the crime,” he narrated.

The practitioners within the Maasai community mostly carry out the activity on special occasions; each year they have initiation ceremony. During this time, they convince the young  girls that if they undergo the process they will be purified , become mature faster and also become more responsible.

Over the years the procedure has been very risky, they have been using one razor on different girls, thus leading to the spread of HIV/AIDS. They also don’t sterilize their working apparatus, which leads to the spread of harmful bacterial infections. This has provoked an outcry from  FGM activists, medical practitioners and also politicians.

But  still, to continue the process and to lure more girls to FGM, they now use different razors and gloves for each girl, in order to assure them the process is safe. They also use cow dug and milk fat to stop the bleeding.

Despite the process leading to health risks, where some girls bleed to death and others exposed to the risk of having stillbirths, many continue to support the activity.  Men from the Maasai community, mostly the Morans (warriors), still mostly prefer so-called ‘circumcised’ girls. This is to preserve their culture and tradition.

Those girls who refuse are isolated by community members, they  are also chased away from their paternal homes and they are considered to have the status of small children amongst their mates. The Morans consider them weak and unable to endure any strenuous activities or to look after their families.

The only glimmer of hope for those who have declined to be part of that  risky tradition is the new special care centres where they rehabilitate those isolated by the community. There, girls are enrolled into education and also mentored to become ambassadors in the fight against FGM.

For those who do choose to undergo FGM, there are enduring reminders of the procedure they went through at an early stage in their lives.

Several organizations have been mobilizing the community about the dangers of FGM, making them aware of the health risks involved. Increased  migration to urban areas and of school enrolment  have supported moves towards the community eradication of FGM. But those fighting FGM also find they are challenged about the tainting of the authenticity and richness of the Maasai culture.

The  government of Kenya has also come up with bills and strict proposals that will help fight FGM and to stop practitioners engaged with the procedure. A free hotline has been created to report FGM cases.

While we keep on coming up with new concepts and ideas to fight female genital mutilation, some of our sisters in the Maasai land will keep ‘Surviving the Cut ‘.

Franklin Mutumba

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 20, 2016 5:25 pm

    Insightful! Though the situation is improving as the Morans (maasai teenage warriors) have now started turning their backs on the practise. They are becoming champions and ambassadors in their own villages.


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