Leah (left) and Malaso (right) two young woman who've recently completed the Alternative Rite of Passage to womanhood that includes reproductive health education sessions and encouragement to finish school.
Between 2009 and 2014, Amref Health Africa successfully graduated 7,361 girls into womanhood through the long running Alternative Rite of Passage (ARP) projects in Kenya and Tanzania.
A rite of passage is a ritual that symbolizes an individual’s transition from one status to another. Girls in nomadic communities are initiated by cutting their genitalia to mark the transition from child to woman.
Dr Koki Kinagwi, Acting Deputy Country Director and Head of Programs of Amref Health Africa in Kenya says the ARP model had achieved great success in Kenya between 2009-2012 and has since scaled up in 2013 to include Kilindi in Tanzania.
“The Amref Health Africa ARP model is the most effective intervention in the fight to end female genital cutting. The model starts with sensitizing the local community members, specifically the cultural elders, the Maasai Morans (young male warriors) and parents of the young girls. There are many challenges in reaching girls as many people in the community still strongly hold on to female cutting as an important cultural practice of initiating Maasai girls into womanhood,” said Dr Kinagwi.
Simon, a respected village elder in Kilindi, Tanzania helps convince young Maasai men that FGC is a dangerous practice.
It is estimated that it costs USD 56 (Kenya Shillings 5,000) to introduce the concept of ARP to reach a girl through school and community structures such as churches, to orient her on the effects of FGC, the ARP training and the ARP graduation ceremony that denounces FGC.
To succeed, this project requires those in the community to be change agents. There are currently 937 Morans who have denounced FGC and become ARP Ambassadors within their settlements in Kenya alone. Together with the county government and Amref Health Africa in Kenya, they have transformed 92 former female cutters into traditional birth attendants.
“At a graduation ceremony in 2014, Kenya’s first lady witnessed 400 cultural elders and 236 religious leaders publicly denounce FGC and swear to advocate for the ARP model in their communities. Since then we have seen immense change among the young men and women who are reaching out to be part of the training sessions,” says Dr Kinagwi.
A cultural exchange visit was done in December 2013 in Magadi/ Loitoktok, Kenya and involved cultural leaders, ex-cutters, youth representatives and ARP project staff from Samburu (Kenya) and Kilindi (Tanzania). They observed and worked with ARP teams and communities from Magadi / Loitoktok. After the visit, the participants from Kilindi and Samburu used their acquired knowledge as an opportunity to speak out against FGC and started organizing an ARP program in their own community. The first two ARPs were organised in June 2014 in Tanzania (390 girls) and one ARP (326 girls) took place in November 2014 in Samburu, Kenya.
The overall goal for the ARP project is to contribute to the elimination of female genital cutting in Magadi, Samburu, Oloitokitok (Kenya) and Kilindi (Tanzania) by 2016. This will be achieved by increasing awareness and knowledge of female genital cutting, increasing school enrolment, retention and transition for the girls, and increasing acceptance and support for the ARP project.
As part of the national efforts to end female genital cutting, Amref Health Africa has been implementing the ARP model in Samburu, Loitoktok, Magadi and Kilindi with funding from the Dutch Postcode Lottery through Amref Health Africa in the Netherlands.