Offering community education and developing alternative rites of passage to discourage Female Genital Cutting

Overview

Tactical Aim: 
Human Right: 
Country or Region: 
Organization: 
Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH)/Maendelo Ya Wanawake

The NGO PATH (Program for Appropriate Technology in Health) and Maendeleo Ya Wanawake, Kenya's largest women's organization, have collaborated to offer alternatives to Female Genital Mutilation. They combine community education for young girls and parents with alternative rites of passage that preserve many traditional aspects of the coming-of-age ritual, while prohibiting physical harm to girls.

In recent years the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), endemic in Africa and surviving in many transplanted immigrant communities, has been a focus of international discussion and condemnation by medical and human rights organizations worldwide. If women in nations where FGM is practiced hope to make gains in the area of women's rights, it is essential that they learn there are alternatives. However, eradicating FGM is proving to be a more tenacious challenge than external pressure can achieve. This tactic is a response to objections often raised by communities claiming that the West does not understand the cultural significance of a practice, rooted in centuries of tradition, which marks a girl's transition into adulthood.

The program began in August 1996 with an aggressive, yet sensitive approach to community education in the Masai community. Kenyan women, many of whom had experienced the procedure themselves as children, spoke to schoolgirls and frankly informed them of FGM’s physical effects. At the same time, parents of young girls were approached by educators with a different angle: discussing the effect of FGM on their daughters’ economic future (typically, a girl drops out of school following FGM and is married, with little personal earning power).

The alternative, non-FGM centered coming of age ritual preserves many of the traditional features of the old version—seclusion, family life education, celebration and gift giving. Thus, parents and their daughters are able to choose to honor cultural traditions without sacrificing their rights to health and economic opportunity. From an initial class of 28 girls participating in a week-long ceremony, the program has grown considerably: by late 1998, more than 1,100 girls had 'graduated' in a dozen ceremonies in several communities. The program has achieved success in that none of the girls who have 'graduated' have given into societal pressure to be circumcised.

This educational tactic has potential for impact far beyond the African continent. FGM has also become an important issue in Australia, the UK, Canada, France and the United States due to the continuation of the practice by immigrants from countries where FGM is common. These nations can learn how to deal with the issue of FGM in a way that is sensitive to the immigrants' native culture, but which protects the interests of young women.

 

New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.

What we can learn from this tactic: 

In recent years the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), endemic in Africa and surviving in many transplanted immigrant communities, has been a focus of international discussion and condemnation by medical and human rights organizations worldwide. If women in nations where FGM is practiced hope to make gains in the area of women's rights, it is essential that they learn there are alternatives. However, eradicating FGM is proving to be a more tenacious challenge than external pressure can achieve. This tactic is a response to objections often raised by communities claiming that the West does not understand the cultural significance of a practice, rooted in centuries of tradition, which marks a girl's transition into adulthood.