Kenya Church Promotes Circumcision Alternative

Genital Mutilation

Genital Mutilation

Female gen­i­tal muti­la­tion, or cir­cum­ci­sion, is ram­pant in parts of Kenya. The pro­ce­dure involves remov­ing part or all of the exter­nal female gen­i­talia and is typ­i­cally per­formed on girls as a rite of pas­sage into wom­an­hood. Crit­ics describe it as female gen­i­tal muti­la­tion, or FGM. In the town of Meru, East­ern province, the Catholic Church has come up with an alter­na­tive rite of pas­sage for girls and young women.

A group of grand­moth­ers demon­strate how to serve food and which herbs to use to cure spe­cific ail­ments.

They are teach­ing the next gen­er­a­tion the secrets of wom­an­hood, like their moth­ers and grand­moth­ers before them.

These girls and young women in the Meru area of Kenya are going through tra­di­tional train­ing of how to be a good wife, mother and woman, but with a dif­fer­ence: at the end of the process they have a grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony and receive a cer­tifi­cate rather than undergo a pro­ce­dure in which part of their gen­i­talia is removed.

The mod­i­fied tra­di­tional train­ing, called the Alter­na­tive Rite of Pas­sage, is a project of the Catholic Dio­cese of Meru and Catholic Relief Ser­vices.

Coor­di­na­tor Mar­tin Koome says the project aims to erad­i­cate the harm­ful prac­tice of female cir­cum­ci­sion while pre­serv­ing local cul­ture.

“Today is the grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony for the girls,” he said. “There will be songs and dance. The rhythm, the dance, the way it is done is like the way it was done in the past, but the mes­sages have been changed to reflect what we would like the girls to learn cur­rently.”

Girls and young women in sev­eral loca­tions across the Meru Dio­cese spend one week away from their fam­i­lies in what is called “seclu­sion.”

They are taught lessons on anatomy, human rights, the dan­gers of drug and alco­hol abuse, HIV/AIDS trans­mis­sion and infec­tion, how to relate to their peers and par­ents, and other life skills.

Mar­ion Mwo­ria is a retired banker who is one of the vol­un­teer teach­ers in the Alter­na­tive Rite of Pas­sage, which is usu­ally held two or three times a year.

“And we teach them, the taboos which Mameru used to have, that they are told, when you are not cir­cum­cised, you can­not be mar­ried. When you are uncir­cum­cised you can­not get preg­nant. When you are uncir­cum­cised, you are not a grown-up woman,” she said. “But we tell them these are just myths.”

Justa Mwenda, 16, wants to be a lawyer. She says the teach­ing given dur­ing the one-week seclu­sion has given her skills on how to express her­self with­out fear and to stand up for human rights.

She says she also learned a lot about the dan­gers of female cir­cum­ci­sion.

“I will try my best to see that my chil­dren or our chil­dren are not cir­cum­cised,” she said. “I will even help those une­d­u­cated par­ents and tell them about these dan­gers of FCR so that my age mates or my friends will not be cir­cum­cised. I would like to have sem­i­nars, I will be orga­niz­ing with oth­ers so that we can teach oth­ers how to behave, how to respect elder peo­ples, how to work hard so that we will be good chil­dren and par­ents in our future.”

Female cir­cum­ci­sion is ille­gal in Kenya. In com­mu­ni­ties that con­tinue the prac­tice, school dropouts, mar­riages of girls as young as 12 years old and early child­birth can be con­se­quences of female cir­cum­ci­sion.

Bernard Gituma is a mem­ber of the Meru Coun­cil of Elders, a body con­cerned with main­tain­ing Meru cul­ture.

“Most of our daugh­ters who did not go through the cir­cum­ci­sion, most of them have gone through schools and even to uni­ver­si­ties,” he said. “They are hap­pily mar­ried. But those who went to the cir­cum­ci­sion very early, they got mar­ried very young and their lives have not being improved.”

Justa Mwenda, her peers, and her fam­ily say the alter­na­tive rite of pas­sage is a ticket to an empow­ered life.

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