Source: Tanzania Daily News
FOR the young Maasai girls who flocked to the Lusane dispensary, 72 kms from Kilindi District headquarters, Songe, dressed in colourful regalia, Thursday May 22, 2014 was a special day for them.

At their age they would normally get ready for the traumatic and dangerous practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). On this particular day, however, it was the opposite.

They came to witness the launching of a new three year Sh. 1.4 billion project, Alternative Rites of Passage (ARP), being executed by Amref Health Africa aiming to break with the age-old FGM tradition and ensuring that young girls go to school and stay there until they complete their education.

For the Sabina Lucas, a 70-year-old Maasai former circumciser (ngariba), it was also a special day and life could no longer be the same. She has spent a larger part of her life cutting the flesh of young girls and according to her with no tangible benefits apart from honouring a tradition that traumatises young girls.

As she was asked to come to stand in front of the crowd, a thing that also shows a changed Maasai society that gives women a chance to speak their minds, Mama Sabina urged the community to do away with the practice. "Today I am the happiest person here.

This has freed my mind from the pain I have been forced by the tradition to cause on young girls. It is not them (girls) who want this tradition but us adults but the education I received from AMREF has shown me this is not correct; we have wasted so much blood of innocent young girls," said Sabina.

Sabina was one of the several members of the Maasai community, including several elders (laigwanan), local midwives (ngariba), religious leaders and youths (moran) who were sent to Kenya to observe execution of the project in Loitokitok, Magadi and Samburu by the same organization.

A Maasai elder, Simon Lushane put it more bluntly when he said elders have decided this would be the end of the practice and people should not fear being cursed for breaking the tradition and custom because they already performed rites to bless the change.

"We have broken with tradition but for our own good. We have agreed to raise our voices against the tradition and that we should not continue to cut the flesh of young girls but instead increase our vigilance to send them to school," said Lushane.

According AMREF Health Africa Deputy Director, Dr Rita Norana, ARP whose execution started last year with cooperation of Netherlands Amref Flying Doctors and Dutch Post Code Lottery aims at reducing gender violence incidents against women, including FGM and would be implemented in Saunyi, Kibirashi, Kisangasa and Tunguli wards that are largely inhabited by livestock keepers.

The most important feature of the project, according to Dr Norana, would not, however, be directed at destroying the fabric of local traditions and customs. "It aims at preserving some of the good traditions and customs of the societies.

We value African customs and traditions and acknowledge their importance. Therefore we aim at working closer with with the societies to look for alternative rites of passages that do not necessarily lead to FGM,' said Dr Norana.

She explained that there were good traditions that allow Africans to identify themselves that teach respect to elders and those that train young girls for future life as spouses and members of the society.

"We aim at eliminating some of the worst, such as those, which do not give priority to educating girls, FGM and early marriages. The ARP project has the specific objective of campaigning for the registration of girls in schools and ensuring that they remain in school until they complete their studies," Dr Norana pointed out.

Although enough research has not been conducted in Kilindi District, experience shows that FGM is widespread in livestock keeping areas especially in areas inhabited people of Maasai stock.

According to the Project Manager, Elias Msegu, the project has so far enabled traditional and customary leaders, youth and women from livestock keeping areas to visit project areas in Kenya to observe project implementation in Loitokitok and conducted training for Kilindi District Council Heads of Department on FGM, conduct Peer Leadership training for largely Maasai groups (Moran, Ndito, Sangiki and elders.

The project also conducted capacity building for religious leaders, conducting mobilization meetings in the project areas and conducting capacity building training for Maasai elders to enable them to reach society members to urge them to make positive changes.

Launching the project, Kilindi District Commissioner urged Kilindi resident to support AMREF Health Africa stressing that without such support the project would not succeed.

"I am glad that the project initiators have chosen to respect and preserve African traditions but are only against the tradition that traumatizes women. We must support Amref Health Africa to eliminate a problem that could be seen as small but which is shaming the district, region and nation," said Liwowa.

A 20-year-old young Maasai girl, Tainoi Kayu, one of the 30 young Maasai girls undertaking nursing at Muheza Designated District Hospital (TEULE), in Muheza District through facilitation of Amref Health Africa said the project represented a hope to young Maasai girls who have to endure the tradition and such other horrible customs as childhood marriages, sometimes as early three years of age.

Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting and female circumcision, is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as "all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for nonmedical reasons.

FGM is practiced as a cultural ritual by ethnic groups in 27 countries in sub-Saharan and Northeast Africa, and to a lesser extent in Asia, the Middle East and within immigrant communities elsewhere. In Tanzania the practice is prevalent in Manyara (71 per cent, Dodoma (64 per cent), Arusha (59 per cent, Singida (51 per cent) and Tanga (20 per cent).

Around 125 million women and girls in Africa and the Middle East have undergone FGM. FGM has been outlawed in most of the countries in which it occurs, but the laws are poorly enforced. There has been an international effort since the 1970s to eradicate the practice and in 2012 the United Nations General Assembly voted unanimously to take all necessary steps to end it.

As of 2013, according to UNICEF, FGM is concentrated in Somalia (98 per cent of women affected), Guinea (96 per cent), Djibouti (93 per cent), Egypt (91 per cent), Eritrea (89 per cent), Mali (89 per cent)), Sudan (88 per cent), Gambia (76 per cent), Burkina Faso (76 per cent), Ethiopia (74 per cent), Mauritania (69 per cent), Liberia (66 per cent), It is also prevalent in Guinea-Bissau (50 per cent), Chad (44 per cent), Côte d'Ivoire (38 per cent), Kenya (27 per cent) and Nigeria (27 per cent).

Others are Senegal (26 per cent), Central African Republic (24 per cent), Yemen (23 per cent), United Republic of Tanzania (15 per cent), Benin (13 per cent), Iraq (8 per cent), Ghana (4 per cent), Togo (4 per cent), Cameroon (1 per cent), and Uganda (1 per cent).

As for legislation, FGM is outlawed in the following practicing countries, as of 2013: Benin (2003), Burkina Faso (1996), Central African Republic (1966, amended 1996), Chad (2003), Côte d'Ivoire (1998), Djibouti (1995, amended 2009), Egypt (2008), Eritrea (2007), Ethiopia (2004), Ghana (1965, amended 2007), Guinea (1965, amended 2000), Guinea- Bissau (2011), Iraqi Kurdistan (2011), Kenya (2001, amended 2011), Mauritania (2005), Niger (2003), Nigeria, some states (1999-2006), Senegal (1999), Somalia (2012), Sudan, some states (2008-2009), Togo (1998), Uganda (2010), United Republic of Tanzania (1998), and Yemen (2001 It is also outlawed in 33 countries outside Africa and the Middle East, including across the European Union, North America, Scandinavia, Australia and New Zealand.

SABINA Lucas, a 70-year-old Maasai woman in Kilindi District who has abandoned the practice of circumcising young girls.

SABINA Lucas, a 70-year-old Maasai woman in Kilindi District who has abandoned the practice of circumcising young girls.
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