ALternative rites of passage

A comparative study of the implementation of ARPs in Kenyan communities


The Population Council implemented a comparative study on the alternative rites of passage (ARP) implemented in the Kuria and Kisii districts, Kenya. The report investigated some of the reasons for their failure.

In the Kuria community, FGM is traditionally a public issue. The Council of Elders’ establishes the dates for the “cutting season”. FGM is publicly celebrated even if the public ceremonies are losing importance. Today, girls are cut earlier in order to prevent them from becoming pregnant before having been cut. The aspect of initiation to womanhood in the practice is therefore weaker than before and the seclusion period during which girls were trained about community values has been abolished. Nevertheless, FGM is still considered as a pre-requisite for marriage and child-bearing and above all as a way to contain female sexual urges and to maintain good morals. It is perceived as part of the Kuria’s culture and efforts to discourage it are seen as an attempt to dilute the Kuria’s culture. There is still a very strong social pressure and stigma on uncut girls. Within the community, some people are still unaware of the harmful effects of FGM or refuse to acknowledge them. Above all, the report shows that the Council of Elders cruelly lacks the will to abandon the practice. As a matter of fact, rescue camps organized during the cutting season are seen as an invasion by outsiders and face strong criticism.

In the Kisii community, FGM is more of a private family affair perpetrated in secret all year long. Like in the Kuria community, in order to prevent girls from getting pregnant before being cut, girls are cut younger. FGM is mainly managed by women and men are rarely involved. The practice is above all supported by the older generation and perceived more as a cultural obligation, part of their way of life and culture, than as a rite of passage. They have the same motives as the Kuria community. Girls are individually submitted to strong pressure and uncircumcised women to stigma. The practice is more and more medicalized and the use of surgical blades and/or the implication of medical staff is perceived as a way to limit medical complications due to FGM. Some obstacles to the FGM abandonment were noted in the study. Community members are hard to reach, the anti-FGM network lacks harmonization, the government doesn’t make enough efforts to enforce the law which results in the practice being brought underground.

The Population Council report concludes that in order to be successful, an ARP: “needs to be fully explained and embedded in community education which covers health risks and girl empowerment programmes”.

Schools, churches and medical staff are privileged stakeholders that are able to address FGM and reach girls and boys. They need to be used more in awareness-raising campaigns and programmes. Most marginalized people in communities, especially those outside school networks, must also be targeted. It is important to adopt a culturally sensitive approach and to engage communities. ARP are most likely to be successful when they are included in broader programs ensuring social acceptance. In this way, elders have to be sensitized and even trained as change agents.  Girls’ empowerment programmes should be developed and education of the whole community must be increased.

You can read the full report here

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