FGM fight is one that we’ve to win
“It is a difficult fight, but it is a fight we have to win for the sake of hundreds of girls whose health, future educational prospects and esteem are jeopardized because of outdated, dangerous traditions,” says Mr. Valerian Mgani, the Project Manager with the Association for Termination of Female Genital Mutilation Association. This is a civil society organization (CSO), located in the Masanga Mission, Tarime District in Mara.
The harmful traditions Mgani is talking about are, one, female genital mutilation (FGM) which girls of between six and 12-years of age are exposed to between November and January each year and two, child marriage.
He adds that at the Masanga Camp, they have received up to 500 girls who come to take refuge in their bid to escape from undergoing the female cut. In fighting the FGM and early marriage scourges, the Masanga establishment has put in place four main programmes.
Community awareness campaigns
This entails engaging with traditional leaders whom social workers target to educate on the effects of FGM and child marriage. “Traditional leaders are everything in rural communities here; they have the power of conviction, the power they attribute to the ancestors, and traditional gods. In these communities their word is final, which is why we need to have their support in our campaigns,” explains Mr. Mgani.
The association further targets the female circumciser. These women, commonly known as “ngariba” in Kuria language, are the one who carry out the cut at a fee of Sh15,000 (about 6.5 USD) for every cut. “This is a lot of money by rural standards; it means FGM is a cash cow to them, therefore we need to convince them that there are alternative ways of making money, not circumcising girls,” says Mgani.
Ms Matinde Machera (55), Ms Gati Mnjoro (40) and Ms Susan Njore (36) are three such women, who have been convinced to abandon their “career” as female circumcisers. This is the result of efforts by the CSO, which has received grants and capacity building services from Foundation for Civil Society (FCS) since 2015.
“We all stopped practicing FGM in 2016 after activists from the Masanga Camp approached us through our traditional leaders and educated us on the evils of circumcising girls. Frankly, we understood,” says Ms Mnyoro, leader of the Mriba Ushonaji Group (MUG), a tailoring establishment located at Mriba Township. Masanga Camp supported the three women, among others, for a 45-day vocational training where courses are offered and they graduated with expertise including tailoring, batik (tie and dye) making and agriculture.
Her colleague, Ms Machera, concedes that their incomes are drastically lower now, but their consciences are clean because they know subjecting girls to FGM is wrong. “Each of us would make millions of shilling per season, but that’s cursed money and it’s no wonder none of us has anything to show for it,” says Ms Machera who had been a “ngariba” since 1989.
Community Rescue Facility
At the Masanga Camp, the CSO is always on the ready to receive girls who are running away, either from abusive fathers/close relatives or FGM. Currently, there are 120 girls aged between 8 and 16, placed in boarding schools and colleges across the country. Mr. Mgani informs our reporter that between 2008 and 2017, the CSO has handled cases of 2,569 girls it placed in schools and colleges.
Within the camp, there is a fully fledged English medium Nursery and Primary School, St Catherine School, which is run by Daughters of Charity Congregation. “We have a total of 215 pupils and 14 teachers who are doing a great job,” says the school head, Sister Clementine Kazimingi, who proudly informs us that in 2017 national exams, her school was second best in the district and fourth best in the Region.
Alternative income generation for Ngaribas
Masanga is aware that besides ignorance and adherence to backward traditions, poverty is also a major factor that drives people to stick to retrogressive practices. Among the Kuria community, a circumcised girl attracts as much as 15 heads of cattle as bride price. Therefore, the harmful traditions promote this practice. And this is directly linked to poverty.
In this regard, the Association has been endeavoring to train the convert ngaribas who have abandoned their practice to engage in other income generating activities. “During the year 2016/17, we sent 40 women, who had agreed to abandon the “evil career” to attend fully-paid-for vocational training in Biharamulo,” says Mr. Mgani.
In Biharamulo, the beneficiaries were offered courses in knitting, modern farming, tailoring and animal husbandry.
“We have also been sensitising former ngaribas to form groups that qualify them to access loans. This year, four groups of 10 have already been formed and one of them has already been issued with a low-interest loan of Sh4 million from the Local Government in Tarime District,” says Mr. Mgani.
The Association provides rights awareness to the people and seeks legal services to victims of domestic violence and girls who have been sexually abused. The work is through collaborating with the Government Social Work Department and the Police Gender Desk. The sensitisation meetings and seminars have empowered women and girls. Mr. Mgani believes that people are getting increasingly aware of their role in fighting the vice that hurt women and girls. Citizens are increasingly reporting cases of women and girls abuse.
These whistleblowing actions are a result of the outcomes of the community sensitisation campaigns the FCS-supported CSO has implemented. Between 2015 and 2018, the CSO has received grants worth more than Tzs 190 million for the fight against these harmful practices (HTPs).