Nairobi — Counties that are known to carry out Female Genital Mutilation are slowly embracing Alternative Rite of Passage (ARP) for girls, a ceremony that replaces and Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) and girl's transition into womanhood without being circumcised.
Last weekend, 287 girls between the ages nine and 16 years proudly graduated at Olmapinu Primary School in Rombo Village in Oloitokitok, Kajiado South County.
The elders who are custodians of culture and traditions blessed the girls and declared their commitment to protect them against the deeply rooted harmful cultural practice.
Sixty-year-old Chief Moran Martine Leshinka who heads Rombo village elders is a dedicated elder whose mission is to convince all Maasai elders to advocate against FGM/C.
"Given how some elders still believe in FGM/C, it has been hard to convince some of them to stop the practice. However, we have come a long way. Today, a number of elders have changed their minds and are now against FGM. As elders, we have set our own target to end FGM in our community by 2020," said Leshinka.
Fourteen-year-old Damaris Siyangoi, a class seven pupil at Soit Primary school could not contain her excitement to be a woman without the cut. She has two sisters who were all circumcised and married off immediately. They were not lucky to finish school.
Damaris said the series of ARP trainings she has participated in since the age of nine have helped her understand her rights and why FGM/C is dangerous.
"I warned my parents not to plan any FGM/C ceremony for me because I would report them to the chief. My bravery made them respect my decision. I have no fear to tell my friends who are at risk of going through the cut that it is their right to refuse the harmful tradition."
The Maasai morans who marry the circumcised girls were also not left behind in the ceremony as they publicly vowed to support girls against FGM in the community.
They pledged to stop FGM, protect young girls who are at risk of going through the harmful practice and not refuse to marry the uncut girls.
The positive embrace towards Alternative Rite of Passage among the Maasai comes after the community was involved in a three-day Amref Health Africa in Kenya Alternative Rite of Passage and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene project (ARPWASH) together with the county government, where they were taught about reproductive health, child rights, harmful and good cultural practices among the Maasai community.
Present during the ceremony was Anastacia Mashindana who runs a community-based organization in Rombo that works to eradicate FGM, fight for the rights of children and an end to child marriages.
The Enduet Women group's chairlady expressed the need to educate the communities on the implications of undergoing the cut as well demystify myths around the vice.
The ARP Project Manager Lugayo Denge noted that they have so far trained 78 teachers and 50 Trainers of Trainees (ToT) on the dangers of FGM/C, 24 traditional female circumcisers on alternative sources of live hoods instead of the 'cut' and 1,225 girls have been trained as ARP champions to advocate against FGM/C and promote education for girls.
The program has also been rolled out in Samburu, Marsabit, Kajiado East and West.
Other organisations involved in the project include the network for Adolescents and Youth in Africa, UJAMAA Africa, PLAN International, Center for the Study of Adolescents (CSA) and AMREF who form the YES I DO Alliance.