ALternative rites of passage

Members’ contributions to the ARP discussion


To emphasize the role of community participation for the success of ARPs, Bertine Pries from Amref underlined that within the past decade, 17,000 girls in the Maasai and Samburu communities have gone through the ARP program, which would not have been possible if cultural decision-makers and community gatekeepers had not taken ownership and leadership of the fight against FGM/C.

To learn more about Amref’s work: read the article available here

Maria Väkiparta from the International Solidarity Foundation briefly presented their work plan in the Kenyan Kisii community. It was noted that providing information about the law and the negative health and social consequences of FGM does not immediately change people’s attitudes and behavior towards the practice especially if they do not have any materiality in their own lives or if there is not any alternative to ensure the community’s acceptance and the marriageability of the girls. In 2019, the mid-term programme evaluation highlighted the need to implement ARP to replace FGM:

“Through ARP, community members will be involved in deciding the best rite of passage for the girls, drawing from the valued cultural practices, and engaging the custodians of culture – such as elderly women and men – to teach good morals and the negative effects of FGM. The plan is to mainstream ARP into the holiday mentorship program for girls at risk, organized by ISF’s local partners Manga Heart and CECOME, and to utilize the ISF-led Muungano Gender Forum to gain local ownership and wider community support for the efforts.

However much of a good solution the ARPs might be, there is a need to understand the community dynamics and to mobilise it in order for it to really accept the change as a new way of initiating girls into puberty instead or practicing FGM. Sheikh, whilst she has not any direct experience of ARP’s implementation, noted, on the base of research, the importance of learning from other social norms’ changing processes:

“ARPs should incorporate all the steps of norm changing whereby we need shifts in the scripts and narratives that keep this practice going, a change in perceptions towards FGM and, above all, the mobilization of the whole community towards the desired change.”

She expressed her concern about instances where uncut girls were not able to fit back in the community and to get married. This could put so much pressure on them that they end up asking to be cut. Finally, she underlines the importance of considering the community’s dynamics, especially cross-border communities, citing the example of the Kuria community:

“When the Kurias in Kenya made public declarations about the abandonment of FGM, they were ‘summoned’ by the Tanzanian counterparts. Apparently the community’s traditional leadership hierachy has its highest representatives in Tanzania.”

ARP ceremonies have clear guidelines but do come with their fair share of challenges in various communities. For instance, some elders may benefit financially from FGM and this may be a contributing factor to making it harder to convince them to support the abandonment of the practice. Sam Jazairi from Respect for Change reported having this issue in the Bukira clan of the Kuria community in Kenya. They tried and failed twice to implement an ARP. According to him, the political, social, economical and geographical context can have an influence in ARP’s success:

“Kajiado county seems to be a positive example of a region where FGM is going to be eradicated before it happens in other regions! Maybe because it is closer to Nairobi and many organizations have put a lot of common effort into the region, add to that having an active governor and first lady in the office right now ( Mr Joseph and Mme Edna). Those ARP can be a good strategy to create a change in people’s behavior there and substitute what they have with something can do the job but with no harm to the girls.”

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Amref’s approach: community-led ARP

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