As the sun sets in Ntithini village in Tharaka Nithi County, Loise Kiria, together with members of a local economic empowerment group, start to pack up handcrafts that they had displayed for sale in Kiria’s home compound. The five are a section of reformed circumcisers who abandoned the vice and are now anti-female genital mutilation champions.
Kiria, 74, takes a long pause as she remembers her entry into the now outlawed practice in 1961. “I was only aged 15 when I was introduced to female genital mutilation. I was a member of Kenda ya Mutani (a nine-member team of aides to a lead circumciser),” says the mother of 14. Kiria performed her first female circumcision in 1985 and was paid Sh50. She would also be given local brew after the exercise, as the culture demanded. “I would use a well sharpened scalpel on ten girls until it was blunt,” she remembers.
But in 2000, Kiria, together with other circumcisers went through a training program to teach them the dangers of FGM. Obligation to Protect, a Plan International’s anti FGM project in Tharaka Nithi County engaged Kiria and her colleagues in income generating activities such as goat rearing and weaving. Faith Mpara, the project manager says so far, seven circumcisers and 18 aides in the area have abandoned FGM after joining two different economic groups within the county.
This, she says, has enabled the women get alternative sources of income as many of them relied on proceeds from circumcision exercise to make ends meet. “One of the circumcisers said she was able to cut about 72 girls in one day. To maintain such income, we had to get alternative sources of income,” said Mpara. The organization, she revealed, plans to buy the women sewing machines to enable them do proper finishing on the baskets and sandals.
Grace Kathini, a reformed circumciser in Nairobi Ndogo village in Tharaka Nithi says poverty pushed her to start practicing FGM. It all started in 1979 when she lost her father and was forced to take care of her five siblings. With no other source of income, Kathini resorted to FGM as a business. “Through the proceeds from the practice, I was able to pay school fees for my two siblings,” says Kathini. She abandoned the practice in 1984, having cut about 300 girls.
Kathini is part of a group of 25 reformed circumcisers in the area who now carry out sensitization programs and alternative rites of passage for girls in the area. They are also on the look out for any incidents of FGM in their areas of residence.
To Chepochemirkut Lokomolya, a reformed circumciser in Kapunyany village in Tiaty, Baringo County, a near-death experience made her stop the vice. “Towards the end of 1998, I witnessed a young girl almost die after an FGM exercise went wrong. I also became a Christian and consequently abandoned the practice,” says the mother of three.
Lokomolya says she began practising FGM as any other cultural practice among members of her community. She would later start earning Sh500 for every girl she circumcised. “But today, I know it is wrong,” she says.
According to John Wafula, United Nations Population Fund’s humanitarian program specialist, there has been notable progress in the war against FGM. Wafula expressed optimism in the president’s goal of eliminating FGM in the country by 2022. “This will be achieved if we work with all stakeholders towards eradicating this vice,” he said.