News

Catholic Church in Kenya Promotes Alternative to Female Circumcision

Multimedia

Female genital cutting, 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.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs