Amref’s approach: community-led ARP

Amref Health Africa is an international NGO that has chosen to focus on the implementation of alternative rites of passage in order to fight against FGM. This approach is used in the integrated Water, Sanitation and Hygiene & ending FGM (ARPWASH) projects in Kilindi (Tanzania) and Kajiado (Kenya). Bertine Pries shared the NGOs experience with the Community of Practice.

 

“More than a decade ago, while Amref was working side-by-side with the Maasai community, the community proposed to design their own alternative to FGM/C which is called the alternative rite of passage (ARP). They asked Amref for support with this.”

 

“The ARP is a community-led cultural alternative to FGM/C that retains cultural rituals and ceremonies in the transition to womanhood, whilst replacing the harmful ‘cut’ by SRHR education and the promotion of girls’ education. Through structured and intergenerational community dialogues, men and boys are actively engaged in addressing norms, attitudes and behaviors underlying FGM/C and other forms of SGBV and harmful practices, like child and early marriage. These dialogues are essential in changing social and gender norms, equal relations and the inclusion of women and girls from within, to ensure they are able to access continuing and lifelong education that positively contributes to themselves and their communities’ socio-economic, instead of child and early marriage. The alternative rite process takes 12-24 months. Once the community collectively decides to abandon FGM/C and embrace the alternative, a ceremony is held.”

 

“The alternative ceremony starts with a two or three-day training for girls and boys, focusing on different themes: sexual and reproductive health and rights, dangers of FGM/C, early marriage, teenage pregnancy, life skills, children’s rights, personal hygiene, harmful and good cultural practices among the community. Most children participating are girls but boys also participate in the training sessions. Ex-cutters, elders, boys and men (especially Morans in Maasai communities) are also involved. Many Morans have openly speaking out only to marry with uncircumcised girls and some are trained as change agents taking the leadership in the fight against FGM/C. More usually they are sensitized to harmful consequences of FGM/C and participate during the public ceremony ensuring their recognition of girls’ transition to womanhood, bless them, promising to protect them from harmful practice and wishing them the best for their future. The blessing of the girls by the cultural elder during the ARP ceremony, is an important ritual in the total abandonment of FGM/C within the community.”

 

The Alternative rites of passage that Amref implement have a common aim: to ensure a better future for girls, allowing them to go to school as long as possible, empowering them by informing them on their rights in terms of their health and sexuality. To achieve this goal, the involvement, support and recognition of the whole community is necessary.

“Engaging all groups and members of the community is a key element of Amref’s work. In the end, the choice to abandon the practice of FGM/C comes from the community itself and through a collective decision-making process”, says Bertine.

“In just under a decade,  17,000 girls in the Maasai and Samburu communities have gone through the ARP program. This would not have been possible if cultural decision-makers and community gatekeepers did not take ownership and leadership of the fight against FGM/C.” “Through our work, we have demonstrated that local communities are essential allies. However, for this to work, organisations have to be willing to roll up their sleeves and work in these communities.”

The Amref experience of ARP also highlights a spin-off effect in neighboring communities. Due to the community champions and grassroots CBOs, like women groups, more and more communities are organizing their own community-led ARPs and saving many girls from the cut. 

« The Community of Practice on Female Genital Mutilation » is part of the « Building Bridges between Africa and Europe to tackle FGM » project, supported by the « UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on the Elimination of FGM ».
The project is coordinated by AIDOS in partnership with GAMS Belgium.

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