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April 10, 2013

Some Kenyan Families Caught in Middle of FGM Debate

by Mohammed Yusuf

The Kuria tribe of Kenya is one of dozens still practicing female genital mutilation.  But now they are facing a cultural crisis, as those girls who are circumcised are dropping out of school to marry, while those who want to continue their education have to fight against tradition. 

In a remote rural district in the southwest of Kenya, students as young as four study in windowless classrooms made of iron sheeting.

In this school most of the teenagers are boys.  Very few girls can be seen.  The Kuria community is struggling to keep girls in school, and some blame the practice of female genital mutilation, which signals their transition into adulthood.

Fourteen-year-old Faith Gati is fighting against centuries of practice. Gati skipped a circumcision ceremony last December and moved from one village to another to avoid the cut.

“My father said I should be circumcised," she said.  "When the time came to be circumcised mum took me to my uncle’s place.  My father would beat my mother.  My uncle took to me to Taarime in Tanzania.  The ritual started again and my father came looking for me.”

The Kuria community does a circumcision ceremony once every two years.   

Gati’s younger sister, who is 11, has undergone the cut.

But Faith Gati has refused.  She says circumcision has prevented girls from achieving their goals, since the culture now treats them like adults, when in a real sense they are still minors.

“I don’t want to undergo circumcision; it spoils many girls,” she said. “I saw my uncle’s wife in Dar es Salaam, she is well educated and she is employed by a big company I envied her and I want to be like her.”

Gati’s mother, Cicilia Suguta, who is still nursing serious injuries in her arms and back from her husband’s beatings, notes the only way her daughter can achieve her dreams is to be uncircumcised, despite challenges from her husband and the community.

“Our girls who are circumcised they think they are grown ups and don’t want to listen to anyone,” she said.  “Even if you talk to them about education they don’t want to know and even understand what you are talking about.  They say even if I don’t get education I will be married.”

Mnanga Musira is one of the elders involved in the anti-FGM campaign funded by the United Nations Population Fund.  He says girls should be given the chance to decide if they want to undergo the cut or not.

“As an elder I would go direct to my chief and report anyone who is circumcising young girls," he said. "I don’t want someone to bring shame to my area forcefully circumcising young girls.  I ask as young as she is what has she done to deserve that pain?”

In the Kuria community the ceremony will be held again in December 2014.  Gati says she will still run away when the time comes and her mother will stand with her daughter even if it means being chased and beaten by her husband again.