Former Cutters Help To End Female Genital Mutilation

Supporting community based organizations to end FGM

Joy Wanja Muraya
Elijah Siromon
07 February 2022

These days Margaret Tulasha Toirai, 62, spends most of her time beading colourful necklaces and bracelets. The jewellery is an important part of Maasai culture, with red beads symbolizing unity, strength and bravery.

It’s a striking difference from her earlier life when she was a renowned “cutter” and brazenly performed female genital mutilation (FGM) in her village in Kajiado County.

Back then, the practice was just as significant to traditional Kenyan tribes as beaded jewelry, and saw young girls systematically brutalized under a belief that cutting cleansed women in preparing for marriage.

In her case, Toirai was trained as a cutter by her mother-in-law when the harmful “social norm” was widely carried in communities across Kenya and many other nations in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Yiampenoi Ntasikoi is a reformed FGM cutter.
Yiampenoi Ntasikoi is a reformed FGM cutter.

But in late 2011 the Kenya government passed the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act into law, imposing harsh criminal penalties for cutting.

“I used to earn 1,000 shillings for each girl during peak FGM season,” says Toirai. “But after taking part in educational campaigns I have come to regret it. FGM encourages girls to get married early, denying them the chance to go to school.”

As the world marks International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM -- observed on the 6 February –Kenyans are rallying around the call to once and for all eliminate FGM.

Under the theme, “Accelerating Investment to End Female Genital Mutilation in Kenya” stakeholders are urging both state and non-state actors to allocate more resources to eradications campaigns as FGM is still being carried out in some communities.

 A hand-women mat on Ending FGM
A hand-women mat on Ending FGM made by women at Ilaramatak Community Concerns in Kajiado County.

The World Health Organisation defines FGM as all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs, for non-medical reasons.

Advocates for FGM elimination say the practice has no health benefits and can cause severe bleeding, infection, problems with urinating, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn mortality.

Jean Lokenga, UNICEF Kenya deputy representative, says Kenya has made great progress in efforts aimed at ending FGM with the Kenya Demographic Health Survey showing overall prevalence of FGM decreasing from 38 per cent in 1998, to 21 per cent in 2014.

“We are determined to support the President and the Government of Kenya in their efforts to end FGM for good. We are also working with UNFPA on a major joint programme to end FGM by directly engaging with affected communities,” says Lokenga.

He said the joint programme continues to embrace community-owned and community-led interventions that were geared towards the elimination of FGM in Kenya.

Across the 14 counties where joint programme interventions are implemented, UNICEF and UNFPA work with more than 15 ethnic groups and some 13,243 (7,321 female and 5,922 male) community champions/role models including uncut girls/women, survivors, parents, religious leaders, politicians, academicians, and professionals from the education, health, social service and legal sectors.

UFPA and UNICEF are also supporting 30 community-based organizations (CBOs) from 22 counties where FGM is still practiced. The CBOs reach out to women and girls at the grassroots, disrupting cutting seasons and empowering community change agents.

Eve Merin
Kajiado County director of Gender and Social Services Eve Merin.

Eve Merin, Kajiado County director of Gender and Social Services, says a multi-sectoral approach to ending FGM has greatly contributed to its decline. However, she called for more concerted efforts including increased and sustained community dialogues.

“We are mentoring and educating girls, providing alternative sources of income for the ex-cutters, and are using male champions to show young mothers and men that FGM is not beneficial to the community,” Merin said.

Agnes Leina, executive director and founder of Ilaramatak Community Concern in Kajiado County, says ending FGM is a multi-faceted issue that must be confronted by both men and women in traditional communities.

“We address girls access, retention and transition from primary to secondary level education,” says Leina. “We also create opportunities for income generation projects for women, advocating for inclusion of women in leadership and decision-making positions.”

Parsanka Maiyanka
Parsanka Maiyanka, a project officer at Ilaramatak Community Concerns hosts community dialogues on ending FGM.

Leina says ending FGM requires girls to become involved in empowerment and mentorship programmes, nurturing positive relationships with men and boys, supporting community monitoring of FGM, tackling cross border travel for cutting, and addressing cultural and social norms that perpetuate gender inequality.

“Girls have aspirations too. It is unfair to deny them a chance to achieve their life goals,” Leina says.

By Joy Wanja Muraya