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A Centuries Old Maasai Custom: Female Genital Mutilation

Matilde Simas | Makuta, Kenya, Kenya

Kenya’s abandonment of female genital mutilation (FGM) was written into federal law in 2011, yet the practice remains widespread in remote areas of the country. “If I do not accept the ‘cut,’ I will be forced to leave,” says one Maasai girl from a remote village. “Where can I go? Girls are cast out from their communities if they’re not ‘cut.’ ”She explains that many girls undergo the process due to familial and community pressures. Maasai society represses the voices of women, and the costs are high for girls who reject the traditional way.

This series documents an unlawful Maasai Female Genital Mutilation ceremony in Makuta, Kenya.  “FGM” is a rite of passage thought to elevate a girl from childhood to the status of adulthood.  The belief is it has the ability to reduce a woman's desire for sex, making her less likely to engage in pre-marital sex or adultery.  The procedure, clitoridectomy, ranges from snipping off a piece of the clitoris to the removal of all external genitalia.  In a dimly light mud hut, an elderly woman performs the procedure with an instrument, known as an "ormurunya."  After the procedure a paste made from cow dung and milk fat is applied to the area to stop the bleeding.

 

 

Kenya’s abandonment of female genital mutilation (FGM) was written into federal law in 2011, yet the practice remains widespread in remote areas of the country. “If I do not accept the ‘cut,’ I will be forced to leave,” says one Maasai girl from a remote village. “Where can I go? Girls are cast out from their communities if they’re not ‘cut.’  ”She explains that many girls undergo the process due to familial and community pressures. Maasai society represses the voices of women, and the costs are high for girls who reject the traditional way.

"FGM" can lead to health issues such as severe bleeding, hemorrhage, sepsis, tetanus, urination problems, cysts, HIV/AIDS, infertility, complications during childbirth, and sometimes death.  Many girls who have undergone the procedure also suffer psychological trauma from the experience.  According to the UN, communities that practice female genital mutilation report a variety of social and religious reasons for continuing the practice.  Seen from a human rights perspective, the practice reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against woman.

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