The Human Impact

The Maasai woman saving vaginas, one girl at a time

September 24, 2012

 

Watching Kenyan activist Agnes Pareyio demonstrate the three different types of female genital mutilation (FGM) on a life-size plastic vagina was an eye opener to the sheer brutality of the practice.

 

It laid bare its function – to control women’s sexuality – and their powerlessness in the communities where it is practised.

 

When Pareyio, who runs a refuge for girls who have run away from FGM, told me that a Maasai woman is “just like the property of the husband” she was not exaggerating.

 

“This is type one of female circumcision,” she said slotting a woman’s private parts between the legs.

 

“We call it sunna. It involves the cutting of the tip part of the clitoris.”

 

The spread legs, though reminiscent of a porn movie, looked pretty normal to me, apart from the missing clitoris – though hardly something you would expect to be shown by a middle-aged Kenyan woman dressed in full Maasai regalia.

 

“This is excision. Excision is practiced by our tribe,” she continued, replacing the first model with what, to me, appeared a less realistic-looking one. There were no vaginal lips, just a large slit between the legs like a doll.

 

“They cut the clitoris… the labia majora and the labia minora, leaving a scar.”

 

But it was the third one that was the real shocker.

 

It was just solid plastic with some white lines – like a small drawing of a television aerial – across the space where the opening should be. When you looked carefully, you could see a little hole towards the bottom to let the urine and menstrual blood through.

 

“This is infibulation. It is practiced by the Somalis and a tribe called the Pokots,” Pareyio said, referring to two ethnic groups in Kenya.

 

After excision, the girl is stitched up until her wedding day. She is literally a gift; a parcel to be cut open by the man.

 

Among the Pokots, the best man takes a goat’s horn and punches a hole between the bride’s legs, Pareyio said.

EVERYBODY WAS AGAINST ME

 

Pareyio has saved hundreds of girls from FGM by providing them with a home at the Tasaru Girls Rescue Centre [link to our video] in Narok County, 100 km west of the capital, Nairobi.

 

By sending them to school, she has opened up a world of opportunities that never existed at home.

 

“My father never liked education,” said 16-year-old Jackline Seleina, who ran away at the age of 12 to avoid being cut.

 

“In the whole village, no one is interested in education.”

 

Seleina now aspires to become a journalist.

 

With their whispering voices and modest long skirts, you realise what guts it has taken these young girls to come here.

 

Seleina has never been back home because she fears her father would beat her up.

 

“I did not have any support… even all my uncles and aunts, everybody was against me,” she said in a quavering voice.

 

Pareyio is on the right track as FGM thrives where women are denied the right to education.

 

According to the Kenyan government, 54 per cent of women with no education have been circumcised compared to just 19 per cent with some secondary education.

 

“No mother that goes to school can agree the daughter to be cut again,” said Pareyio.

But girls are being circumcised at a younger age – before they are aware of what is being planned or old enough to run away.

 

Half of today’s teenage girls (aged 14–19) who have been cut say it was done when they were less than 10 years old. In the previous generation (aged 45-49), only 14 percent were cut at such a young age.

 

Although Pareyio’s model vaginas convinced me, it will take hundreds more women like her to end FGM in Kenya.

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