Global Resources

Female genital mutilation practices in Kenya: the role of alternative rites of passage - a case study of Kisii and Kuria districts

Author: H. Oloo, M. Wanjiru, K. Newell-Jones
Publisher: Feed the Minds
Publication Date: Mar 2011

This study seeks to better understand female gential mutilation (FGM) as it is practised by the Kuria and Kisii communities in Kenya, in order to enable agencies working there to devise more effective interventions encouraging the abandonment of FGM. Researchers investigated the current attitudes and practices regarding FGM among men and women; the awareness and attitudes towards the Alternative Rite of Passage (ARP); and factors that encourage individuals to take decisions to abandon the practice of FGM. Data was collected through focus group discussions and key informant interviews.

FGM is still a celebrated public event for the Kuria people, dictated by the decrees of their Council of Elders, which decides when circumcision should take place. In contrast, FGM in Kisii is a private family affair; it is usually practiced without public celebration, oftentimes secretly. In both communities, girls who undergo FGM receive gifts, and are generally considered to be more suitable for marriage and more socially acceptable. Conversely, uncircumcised girls and women frequently experience stigmatism, isolation and ridicule. This study reveals that girls are increasingly undergoing FGM at much younger ages as a consequence of the illegality of FGM under The Children Act (2001), and in an apparent attempt to circumcise them before they might refuse. Despite ARP being considered most appropriate for communities where FGM involves a public celebration – the ARP graduation is intended to eventually replace it whilst retaining a tradition of celebration – ARP has been successfully used in Kisii’s residential ARP camps. In Kuria, where the emphasis is on rescuing girls from FGM, there is limited community recognition of ARP elements involving the health risks of FGM and women’s and girls’ rights violations.

The study finds that the success of ARP is strongly dependent on the concept being understood and accepted locally, particularly by family and community decision-makers. The authors recommend that ARP be fully explained and embedded in community education and girl empowerment programmes covering health risks, the rights of girls and women, as well as challenging the myths and assumptions around FGM. Further findings and recommendations include:

  • The local agencies in Kuria should shift their focus from rescue camps held in the FGM season and engage in longer-term community education and girl empowerment initiatives throughout the year. Additionally, attempts should be made to engage the Council of Elders as potential agents of change.
  • In Kisii, agencies should engage a wider range of people, including men and community leaders, in FGM-related education. There is also a need for more girl empowerment initiatives incorporating ARP.
  • Since education is seen as an important factor in the abandonment of FGM in both communities, with schools providing a valuable forum for addressing FGM, it is recommended that partners work closely with schools and churches to help build teachers’ capacity to discuss FGM with pupils.
  • Since families whose children are not attending school are less likely to be involved in educational activities about FGM and the rights of young girls and women, it is recommended that agencies also target these marginalised community members.

The research for this publication was carried out by Population Council, Kenya, in partnership with Feed the Minds, UK, Education Centre for the Advancement of Women (ECAW), Kenya and Reach Women and Youths Development Organisation (RWAYDO), Kenya.