Mzee Kipkurgut’s face is pinched in sorrow
He knows meeting his daughter is going to be difficult. But it has to be done. It must be done
Dorcas, now 28 years, has received a scholarship to study medicine for her master’s degree in Melbourne, Australia. And Mzee Kipkurgut must bless her before her departure. It is part of their culture
He hasn’t seen her since she completed her transformation into womanhood. That was 15 years ago
Mzee Kipkurgut shudders in his tattered leather jacket. His glance slowly checks out the other elders, also shivering from the early morning July cold. It has been raining in Eldoret.
The women have stopped singing. One of them is holding a mursik bottle, looking nervously at the arrivals. Still nothing of Dorcas’ plane
“I never forgave them,” Dorcas wrote in her email during our first communication. “Especially my dad. He had the power to stop all this but he just looked at me as I was dragged to the forest that day.”
Although it is the women who actively participate in executing female genital mutilation among the Marakwet community, men hold the power. They make key decisions and give the nod for their daughters to get the cut.
MEN’S DECISION MAKING IS BEING QUESTIONED IF THEY CANNOT MAKE A STAND AGAINST FGM…THEIR VOICE NEEDS TO BE HEARD
Rev Joash Lonyalil
“I was pretty close to my dad. Daddy’s girl…that’s what my brothers called me. But everything changed after I got circumcised,” says Dorcas. “I even deleted his number from my contacts.”
Most men in the Marakwet community covertly support the cut. Between 100 and 140 million girls and women in the world are estimated to have undergone such procedures, and 3 million girls are estimated to be at risk of undergoing the procedures every year according to the UN’s inter-agency statement.
Dorcas concurs. “My dad would have saved me from the cut. But he was under peer pressure from his fellow elders. To them, this is all about status. About honor.”
Among the Marakwet community, boys are encouraged to marry circumcised girls. They look down on uncircumcised girls, calling them chesilian, a derogatory name that means dirty. They are often discouraged from associating with them
“My dad still does not understand why I never call or visit home. The trauma I went through is still fresh in my mind.”
UNESCO believes FGM is a form of violence against girls and women, with physical and psychological consequences. Female genital mutilation deprives girls and women from making an independent decision about an intervention that has a lasting effect on their bodies and infringes on their autonomy and control over their lives.
As Dorcas’ plane comes to a stop and the group starts singing again, Mzee Kipkurgut is the last to get through the airport entrance
“I decided to be the bigger man that day,” says Dorcas. “Looking at his face brought tears in my eyes…it brings back all the memories about my difficulty during childbirth.”
A research by Equality Now says an estimated 21 percent of girls and women undergo FGM in Kenya annually. Kenya passed a law that prohibits Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and imposes tough penalties on perpetrators and those abetting the practice. The law not only bans the practice in Kenya but also prohibits cross-border FGM and bars medical care givers from carrying out the practice. In addition, the law holds that consent cannot be cited as an excuse for conducting FGM.
Most men in the African traditional setup believe the practice should still go on, despite the furor against it. Research across Sub-Saharan Africa shows that traditionally men are hardly involved in female genital mutilation.
Says Silas Koros, a matatu driver: “This thing was passed to us by our second generation ancestors. Abandoning it is like walking away from our culture. It is beyond us.”
But in the African setup, men are highly regarded as custodians of culture, religion and tradition thereby showing their great potential to change the practice. Most men in nomadic communities, like the Pokot and Marakwet communities in North Rift Kenya are rigid when it comes to loosening their grasp on culture.
“Men can actually participate in and support harmless rites of passage, the ones we call Alternative rites of Passage,” says Rev Joash Lonyalil, a preacher in Kapedo. “They have a moral responsibility to support activities and campaigns against FGM in their communities. But they don’t.”
A growing number of men are quickly embracing the fight against the cut. New technology, grassroots campaign and change in lifestyle all contribute to the change in attitude.
“I hope to see a new generation of young men who will marry uncircumcised women, call out chiefs and villages elders who do not enforce the government policies on anti-fgm,” says Joel Rugut, an IT specialist from the Marakwet community
He believes that men can mentor young boys and encourage them to marry uncircumcised girls to release the social pressure associated with the ritual
In the meantime, like Dorcas, many girls prefer to keep their distance from their fathers, waiting until things will change