Renouncing FGM, Choosing a Hopeful Future
Pressured by cultural expectations and her own family, a teenage girl in Kenya’s Pokot area, resists undergoing FGM and has become a strong advocate for girls to embrace an alternative rite of transition to adulthood.
Betty Chemsta, 17, is a grade 10 student at the Chesta Girls Secondary school in the Pokot area of Kenya. She is the oldest of six children and the only girl. Betty lives in an area where female genital mutilation (FGM) is still practiced extensively. Betty’s mother and grandmother are strong believers in FGM, which practitioners say reduces a female’s libido and thus makes her more desirable for marriage. But her father is against it because his sister died in labor due to complications from female genital mutilation.
The procedure is just that-mutilation. It involves cutting the female genitals and has serious adverse effects on a girl’s or woman’s health, particularly in childbirth. Death from the procedure is not unusual.
“Up to now, my aunts and grandma are still pushing me to go for FGM,” Betty said. “They say: ‘If you are not circumcised, you will not get a husband.'” Another pressure is that of acceptance in their rural society. In a male-dominated community such as Pokot, which adheres strictly to traditions, “…if you are not circumcised, you cannot address people in a community meeting,” Betty said.
Boys are another strong source of pressure for girls. They consider uncircumcised girls “children” and not mature because FGM is a procedure used to transition girls to womanhood. “Boys say we are children who know nothing until we go through FGM. They jeer us everywhere as we go home or walk to market,” said Betty.
The good news is that when boys pressure or criticize her about FGM, Betty quickly and confidently stands up to them thanks to the teachings she has received from World Vision and a community-based organization which mentors girls through a program called Alternative Rites of Passage (ARP).
“When I went through ARP, I learned to be well-behaved and stand as a Christian,” Betty said. “ARP taught me the effects of FGM and early marriage. I was also encouraged to focus on education for a better future. Were it not for ARP, I would not be in school today.”
Betty knows many girls who have undergone FGM and dropped out of school. “FGM has a way of distorting their world view. They get a puffed-up ego thinking that now they are adults, and they won’t listen to teachers.” That is why they don’t stay in school, she said, because FGM culturally leads them to believe they’re now mature women.
Betty wants to be a role model for other girls. She is studying hard in school and has set her sights on becoming a civil engineer. As a youth who has resolved not to undergo FGM, she is often invited to talk to other girls in her church about how FGM is something they don’t have to accept.
“Our goal is to help girls continue their education instead of getting married off early,” said the ARP group’s leader. “We have seen a big increase in school intake, especially secondary and colleges,” added a group committee member. More people in the community are embracing ARP because it is done openly with speakers encouraging others to renounce FGM. World Vision’s child protection program is working with such groups to stop FGM and give girls a more hopeful, healthful future.
Learn more about World Vision’s Child Protection Program in Kenya.