Kenya: Tangi Tatu the Village Where Men Are Saying No to FGM
The Star, Mar. 30, 2015
Also available on the allAfrica website
In the far-flung remote village in Moi Ndabi, Naivasha Sub County, the unthinkable is happening. A few male trailblazers are saying enough is enough, not only must female genital mutilation (FGM) end here, but girls must also see the inside of a classroom.
The men are also saying that more Maasai women should aspire for political leadership “since the few we have are doing the community proud and changing our lives,” says Daniel Topisia, an elder in Moi Ndabi area.
Locals call their village Tangi Tatu (three tanks) after a water project that has become a landmark in an area that is remote and inaccessible.
Here, a group of men, both young and old have seen the light and are working under a group dubbed Miki Nauru, (Maasai for I will not tire), in full the slogan is Sita Choka Kuangamiza Kukeketwa Kwa Wasichana (I will not tire of fighting to eliminate FGM).
“For a Maasai to abandon something that he believes is his culture is not very easy. The beginning of this group was met with great resistance,” he says.
Adding that even for those who are members of this growing movement “it took some time to accept the challenge.”
Topisia said he was drawn to take on the anti-FGM campaign outside his homestead due to an interaction he had with Women Empowerment Link (WEL), a women organisation that has been fighting against all forms of harmful practices.
“Sitting a Maasai elder down to explain that ‘cutting’ (FGM) is bad is not very easy especially if the information is coming from someone I consider my daughter or any woman in general, we cannot sit down and talk as equals,” he says.
To bridge this gap, WEL brought some videos where the men were able to see the effect of the ‘cut’ “something that I will never forget. It was very disturbing,” he says.
He said even more disturbing was the relationship between the FGM and complications that can lead to death when a woman is giving birth.
It has been long documented that the highest maternal and infant mortality rates are in FGM practicing regions.
According to Topisia, men rarely, if ever “see what has been done to a woman, the women suffer in silence in the name of culture.”
Though some women have even died from FGM gone wrong, for a long time, many communities that practice FGM have refused to let go.
But with great difficulties and a lot of negotiation, the anti-FGM campaign is gaining traction and making inroads. “I came up with the slogan Miki Nauru. As a young Maasai man, I represent a generation that is refusing to marry girls who have been ‘cut’,” says Benson Nteei, coordinator of the group in Kongoni, Naivasha Sub-County.
Topisia says since eliminating these harmful practices could not happen overnight “we tried to negotiate with our people. You have to take a Maasai through a process slowly, if you rush him, he will not follow you or even buy into what you are saying.”
To maintain some aspects of culture while shedding the destructive ones, Topisia says they came up with the exchanging clothes ritual.
“A boy could never have been circumcised before the elder sister, this way, many girls would be forced to undergo the ‘cut’ in the name of culture, but these days, the girl and boy exchange their clothes briefly,” Topisia says.
He says that by wearing each other’s clothes for a brief moment is enough to open the door for the boy to get circumcised. According to Topisia, it is nothing elaborate “the boy can wear the blouse and the girl his shirt, just that and for a very brief moment.”
But changing times have also contributed to the growing momentum of the anti-FGM campaign in a village that borders Narok that has also been notorious for promoting the harmful cut.
“When men began being left behind with a homestead full of daughters, who no one wants to marry since they are ‘cut’, things began changing,” he says.
“We live here with nearly all the tribes in Kenya, our young men would run to Kikuyu women who have not been ‘cut’,” Topisia says.
These tribes would also seclude girls who have been ‘cut’, so stigmatisation has also significantly contributed.
But the curtains are not only falling on FGM, but other aspects of culture that are gender discriminative. “Maasai men used to say we cannot follow a woman. This is changing and more and more Maasai women are becoming political leaders,” he says.
He says women like Agnes Pareyio have had to face great resistance “men would insult them and say that only foolish men follow women, but that has changed.”
Topisia says today when Pareyio visits Tangi Tatu village, or Senator Naisula Lesuuda “we all come out to listen. We are proud to have Maasai women leaders.”
Pareyio is a pioneering activist who has been championing women and girls’ rights since she was a teenager.
He also says that it is now common to find women addressing a gathering that includes men, “we are beginning to see that we all need to work together to improve our lives and to get our people out of poverty.”
Adding that as more and more girls are attending school, early marriages and early pregnancies are becoming a thing of the past.
“We are also seeing fewer men forcing girls to get married “those who are forced are running away and getting married in other tribes, so for peace and harmony, girls are being allowed to chose their partners.”
While the battle against FGM rages on in Tangi Tatu, it has had to endure many false starts, setbacks and at times those in the lead felt like they were fighting a losing battle.
Topisia says while FGM is rare in his village and the few who still dare to indulge in it do it in secret, corruption has been a major factor.
“Many people are well informed, they know that performing the ‘cut’ is a crime, so we are always on the look out and we report these cases to the chief,” he says.
Unfortunately, sometimes money does get in the way and the culprit goes free.
But Topisia and his fellow Miki Nauru members acknowledge that nothing good comes easy. “We used to pierce our ears until the lobes would hang like ropes, just to keep up with being a true Maasai, nobody is doing that now,” he says.
Amidst laughter, he also says standing on one foot is also not a must do for a Maasai.
While many women who performed FGM became informed and acknowledged that it is a barbaric act that needs to be abandoned, they still clung to it since they had no alternative sources of income.
“Many would say that it is the only job they have ever done, so they would refuse to give it up. But the World Vision stepped in and together with these women circumcisers, came up with alternative sources of income,” says Topisa.
Nteei says girls would come to their village under the guise that they were visiting their grandmothers “so that they can go through the ‘cut’, heal and go home, I am always on the lookout for these incidences.”
Measures by Government to fight FGM
Act prohibiting FGM is passed in 2011, making it illegal to carry out FGM, abet it or fail to report it.
The Anti-FGM Board was established in 2013 to support anti-FGM interventions.
In 2014, an Anti-FGM Prosecution Unit was set up under the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to prosecute cases related to FGM and child marriage