Alternative Rites of Passage

What are Alternative Rites of Passage?

“Alternative Rites of Passage (ARP) are touted by NGOs and international donors as an alternative to female initiation into womanhood, but without female genital mutilation”. They “may be read as a newly-invented ritual that aims to replicate or mimic certain aspects of the traditional initiation process, but without the physical cut.” (Lotte Hughes, 2018)

In many communities FGM is practiced as an initiation into womanhood, guaranteeing a girl’s marriageability. It is seen as proof of her strength and bravery and allows her to gain respect from other women. Therefore, alternative rites of passage aim to offer a harmless alternative to FGM while fulfilling the function that FGM has in some communities: to mark the passage from childhood to womanhood.

The first ARP that we know of was implemented in 1996 within 30 families from the Meru community in Kenya, by two organisations, Maendeleo ya Wanawake and Programme for Alternative Technology in Health (PATH) (Oloo H., Wanjiru M., and Newell-Jones K., Population Council 2011). The aim was to lead the community towards pursuing the ceremony celebrating the passage from childhood to womanhood but without genital cutting. Indeed, FGM was part of a larger initiation process in Meru. The spirit of this initiation rite was respected and maintained in the alternative rite. Girls still received education on family and women’s social role and a public celebration with exchange of gifts was organized. The ceremony was concluded by a public declaration stating the community’s recognition of the girls’ passage to womanhood.

Maendeleo ya Wanawake still supports the implementation of alternative rites of passage in selected communities. It is part of a broader approach based on grassroots work aiming to raise awareness on the consequences of FGM and early marriage and involve the whole community in the abandonment of the practice and the law’s enactment. ARP implemented today follow the same logic (Nailantei N., 2018; AMREF Canada). They begin with a few days of training on girls and women’s rights and health and are concluded by a public graduation ceremony.

Currently, the main issue is the community’s recognition of alternative rites of passage, which is not always ensured. The lack of community’s involvement and inclusion in the trainings, sensitization campaigns or during the ARP brings distrust and gives the impression of something imposed by the outside interfering in the community’s affairs and culture.

How and where is it put in place?

Alternative rites of passage differ from one community to another. There is no single model commonly applied by every NGO implementing them. If the NGOs are the main leaders of ARP, some also resort to local partners to help them in involving the community’s members and successfully implementing the ARP (UNFPA-UNICEF, 2017).

ARP are mostly implemented in Kenyan communities (AMREF, 2018; AMREF Canada), the strategy has also been used in other countries such as Uganda (UNFPA-UNICEF, 2017) and Somalia (8).

The NGO AMREF implements ARP in Kenya (Nailantei N. (AMREF), 2018):

ARP offers training that sensitises local communities on the dangers of FGM/C, building consensus toward a collective decision to abandon it. The new ritual combines the traditional ceremony with sexual and reproductive health education, and the promotion of girls’ education. The ARP ceremony is marked by two days of lessons on community values and traditions, sexuality and sexual health issues, and life skills.

Who is involved?

The programmes aim to involve the whole community in the ceremony, in order to build a social consensus around the rite and its significance. Young girls receive training and the whole community is then invited to the closing ceremony. Depending on the community, parents are sometimes involved in the training that the girls receive given by the leading NGO. The elders, traditional cutters or parents’ involvement in the public ceremonies and their role in the whole process differ from one community to another. For instance, in the Ugandan community of seminomadic Pokot and Karimojong, FGM is often perpetrated by traditional healers who are highly respected in the community and considered as guardians of traditions (UNFPA-UNICEF, 2017). Thus, the traditional healers were targeted by the sensitization and training campaigns led by Vision Care Foundation in the Nakapiripirit district.

The NGO organized discussions with them in order to raise their awareness on harmful effects of FGM and accompany them to find an alternative rite to FGM. They found a way to replace the cutting and emphasized the importance of sensitizing elderly women who had misconceptions about uncut girls.

Amref, 78 Girls Graduate into Womanhood without “the cut”. Access here

Amref, 2019 (a), 545 Girls Graduate to Womanhood without the Cut in Kajiado County. Access here

Amref, 2019 (b), Voices the Community as they embrace the Alternative Rite of Passage in place of FGM. Access here

Amref, 2018 (a), 287 Girls Graduate from Childhood to Womanhood wihtout « The Cut ». Available here

Amref, 2018 (b), Local communities should take ownership of war against FGM. Available here

Amref Canada, Stop Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Start the Alternative!, Access here

Cook S., 2018, Guest Blog for 28TooMany: Feed the Minds, Do ARP approach work?, Access here

Graamans E.P. et al., 2018, PanAfrican Medical Journal: Lessons learned from implementing ARP in the fight against FGM/C, Access here

Hughes L., 2018, Alternative Rites of Passage: Faith, rights, and performance in FGM/C abandonment campaigns in Kenya, Access here 

Oloo H., Wanjiru M., Newell-Jones K., Population Council 2011. “Female genital mutilation practices in Kenya: The role of alternative rites of passage. A case study of Kisii and Kuria districts.”, Access here 

UNFPA-UNICEF, 2017, Annual Report of the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme to End FGM/C: Accelerating Change 17 ways to end FGM/C : Lessons from the field. Companion booklet to the 2016, Access here

UNFPA,World Bank, 2004, Female Genital Mutilation / Cutting in Somalia, Acces here

Nailantei N., 2018,Rope in elders and traditional healers to lead the fight against female cut, Access here

Video: Alternative Rites of Passage to Womanhood: Celebrating girls without “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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