Kenyan Maasai Mark Momentous Milestone In Move To End Female Genital Cutting

By Julia Lalla

I’m on my way home through a dismal February-London, and it already feels as if the exuberance, gravity and joy of the gathering I have just been privileged to witness in the Loita Hills of Kenya is far behind me.

What I saw there was not an everyday occurrence. 3,000 Maasai came together to publicly declare they are no longer going to practice female genital cutting, marking a monumental milestone in the Kenyan movement to end the harmful tradition.

It took years of preparation, pioneering spirits, and commitment to listening and talking. At the heart of the movement I’m talking about is a deep desire to protect girls and allow them to flourish.

It started ten years ago, when grassroots organisation S.A.F.E. Kenya were working to prevent the spread of HIV. Their approach of using traditional theatre and song interwoven with human rights messages, spread to Loita, 8 hours drive from Nairobi, where Maasai farmed their land and grazed cattle.

As conversations about HIV and health were starting to happen, it stirred something within one woman in Loita, Sarah Tenoi, who began thinking about her experiences of a long-held tradition which can have grave consequences for women and girls’ health, but was shrouded in secrecy: female genital cutting.

Sarah knew all too well the impacts cutting can have on a woman’s life, and decided to make it her mission to challenge the practice. One of the biggest barriers she faced was that cutting was seen as an integral part of Maasai culture; a rite of passage for girls to become women.

Sarah shared her quiet yet breathtaking vision with her friend, and project manager for S.A.F.E., Amos Leuka, and together they decided to take the issue to the village elders. Over the next several years, the team opened up conversations about human rights in the community and raised awareness about cutting through traditional song, dance and theatre.

In December 2017, a surprising breakthrough created an opportunity. Kenyan authorities were cracking down on cutting within Loita, resulting in girls being cut secretly to evade detection, rather than in a public ceremony.


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