When Women's Global set up our Sisters to School Kenya program in 2007, we found that many girls in the Tharaka region quit school as soon as they underwent female genital mutilation (FGM), which is still widely practiced in the Tharaka region and other parts of Africa.
Women's Global believes that in order to successfully combat the practice of FGM, solutions must address the cultural and social underpinnings of FGM on multiple levels.
With our partner organization Ntanira Na Mugambo Tharaka Women’s Welfare Project (TWWP), we have developed a community education program aimed at helping communities in Tharaka eradicate this harmful practice by working through these cultural and social issues.
Called Circumcision with Words, our program also seeks to weave together the themes of girls' education, empowerment and the eradication of FGM in our awareness efforts and to offer families and communities alternate ways to celebrate a girl's rite of passage into womanhood without genital cutting.
Peace Corps Volunteer and WGEP Intern Hayley Webster spent 10 days in Tharaka, Kenya in December 2010 with WGEP Kenya, helping to facilitate the 2010 annual “Circumcision With Words” Alternative Rite of Passage ceremony. Hayley has been an intern with WGEP since 2008 and is currently serving as a public health Peace Corps Volunteer in Kakamega, Western Province, which is about 230 miles from the WGEP site in Tharaka.
Alternative Rite of Passage Program to combat female genital mutilation (FGM)
The 2010 “Circumcision with Words” Alternative Rite of Passage (ARP) ceremony was attended by 73 girls ranging from Class 3 (3rd grade) students to secondary school students. Originally, more than 100 girls had registered for the ARP, but a local Methodist church decided to also host an anti-FGM program, and girls from that church opted to participate in that program instead.
The participants in our ARP program became involved in the ARP after being WGEP Kenya scholars and through their participation in activities run by WGEP Kenya partner Tharaka Women’s Welfare Programme. Many of the girls in this year’s ARP also have older sisters who have undergone FGM, but after participating in WGEP Kenya programs, these girls decided not to follow in the tradition of their sisters. Three families pulled out their girls at the last minute because they wanted them to be circumcised; TWWP went to visit and talk with the families and succeeded in persuading them to let their girls opt out of circumcision. These girls will participate in the 2011 ARP program.
The 5-day ARP program was designed to mimic a traditional circumcision ceremony in which girls are first secluded for several days with other women and girls for the cutting, capped off by a celebration with family and friends at the end of the seclusion. The girls in the ARP were “secluded” for four days of awareness and empowerment workshops, after which a formal ceremony was celebrated with family, friends and neighbors with songs, dances and speeches.
According to TWWP member and WGEP Project Coordinator Aniceta Kiriga, a significant change in attitudes in the community since TWWP was first founded, with children now taking the initiative to refuse FGM and many men publicly supporting ARP programs. The program has seen great success in the immediate area, and TWWP is hoping to replicate the program in the interior of Tharaka, where FGM is still widespread.
The Tharaka Women’s Welfare Programme (TWWP) is a local , woman-led community organization that facilitates the WGEP Kenya Sisters-to-School program. TWWP was established in 1995 with the aim of eradicating female genital mutilation in Eastern Province and was the first such program in Kenya. To date, TWWP has helped more than 2,500 girls and their families to say “No!” to female genital mutilation.
Drip irrigation, IGAs and sack gardening
During her visit to Tharaka, Hayley also worked with TWWP to investigate opportunities within the community for drip irrigation, sack gardening and other income-generating activities (IGA). Drip irrigation can allow farmers to grow crops using a minimal supply of water, which can be especially helpful to families in an area like Tharaka which has been plagued by drought. Sack gardening can help families easily grow additional vegetables to improve nutrition especially during times of drought, famine and failed harvests. Additional income-generating activities, such as developing handmade goods from easily obtainable local materials for tourists/export, can give women an additional source of income for their families.
In addition to enhancing the financial stability of local families, these practices can also help keep students, especially girls, in school, since many parents in the area will have their children drop out of school during times of financial hardship or famine so they can assist with providing for the family. The hope is that practices such as drip irrigation, sack gardening and other income-generating activities will help families stay financially stable and allow them to keep their children in school.
READ MORE ABOUT WGEP SISTERS-TO-SCHOOL KENYA.