ALternative rites of passage

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  (ARP) 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 Masai 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 sexual and reproductive health rights 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 sexual and grievous bodily harm and harmful practices, like child and early marriage. These dialogues are essential in changing social and gender norms, establishing equal relations and including women and girls from within, to ensure they are able to access continuing and lifelong education that positively contributes to them and their communities’ socio-economic stability, instead of child and early marriage. The ARP process takes 12-24 months. Once the community collectively decides to abandon FGM 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, 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 declared that they will only marry uncircumcised girls and some are trained as change agents taking on leadership roles in the fight against FGM. They are educated on the harmful consequences of FGM and participate during the public ceremony demonstrating their recognition of girls’ transition to womanhood. They bless the women, promise to protect them from harmful practices and wish them the best for their future. The blessing of the girls by the cultural elders during the ARP ceremony is an important ritual in the total abandonment of FGM/C within the community.”

The ARP 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 comes from the community itself and through a collective decision-making process”, says Bertine.

“In just under a decade,  17,000 girls in the Masai 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 CSOs, like women groups, more and more communities are organizing their own community-led ARPs and saving many girls from the cut. 

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