More than 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone circumcision. This practice is also known as female genital mutilation (or FGM) and is illegal in many countries. Despite the fact that FGM is also illegal in Tanzania, the practice is still an important tradition for the Maasai people. Female circumcision is seen as a rite of passage for a girl to become a woman. After a girl is circumcised, she is seen as a woman and is deemed ready for marriage and to bear children. No matter how young she is!
A young Maasai bride
Female circumcision in the Maasai community
When a girl is between the age of 10 and 14, she will be circumcised by a local Maasai woman. This woman is called an ‘engamuratani’ (circumciser). The ‘engamuratani’ has an important social function and is well respected in the Maasai community. On the day of the circumcision, the girl is washed with cold water. Thereafter, two women will hold the legs of the girl and another woman will hold the upper part of the girl’s body. The ‘engamuratani’ will then cut away the girl’s clitoris with a traditional knife or razor. While some girls can endure the pain, others will scream out in pain. In the first days after the circumcision, the girl cannot walk and the wound will continue to bleed. Later in life circumcision will likely bring other problems. Giving birth will become extra painful. Female genital mutilation causes physical, mental and sexual problems and brings major health risks with it, which in some cases can lead to death.
Experience of the founder and chairwoman of the Nanginyi Foundation, Mar-Lisa: ‘I was spending some time in a Maasai boma when a girl was circumcised. All the women went to the hut where the girl would get circumcised. When I was talking to the men, I suddenly heard her voice. This was a moment I will never forget. In the days after the girl was cut she did not come outside and I could only imagine the pain she was going through. This was the moment where I thought: ‘I have to do something about this.’ For the girl that was circumcised it was already too late, but for Nanginyi, the girl I had become good friends with, there was still hope’.
The international community is working hard to eradicate the practice of FGM. Their goal is to end the practice of FGM worldwide by the year 2030. The Nanginyi Foundation will do anything they can to help realize this goal. By giving Maasai girls the chance to go to school, they will take another path in life and get the chance of a brighter future. When we meet a girl that we believe can be helped, we first of all discuss everything with her parents. We explain to them that their daughter does not only have the chance to go to primary school, but also to high school and college/university. In Nanginyi‘s case this means that her family has canceled her oncoming marriage because Nanginyi will go to school in the coming years.
Instead of being given away for marriage at a young age, Nanginyi will go to school in the coming years!
What we do
The Maasai women are all very enthusiastic when their daughters get the chance to go to school. However, the men need some time to get used to the idea. Daughters are a form of income for the Maasai because when the daughter is given away for marriage, a bride price (in the form of cows) will be paid to the girl’s family. Sometimes girls are sent to school by her parents, although they may pull her out of school again around the age of 10 to prepare her for marriage. The Nanginyi Foundation is focusing on the continuity of education. We sponsor girls when they go through primary school, high school and college/university. We believe it is important that the children have a solid educational foundation in order for them to have more chances on the job market and that they will become strong and independent women who can make their own choices.
Pictured: Sakai (21), mother of Nemeyei, is very proud that her daughter gets the chance to go to school. Sakai was given away for marriage to her (now) husband Shakwai when she was 14 years old. She became his second wife and they have two girls together: Nemeyei (4) and Namuyak (1). Nemeyei is one of the girls that the Naningyi Foundations sponsors and will start school in January 2018.
How can you help?
Do you want to help us with our fight against female genital mutilation? Sponsor one of our Maasai girls! You can for example buy something in our webshop or make a donation. Take a look on our page how can you help to find out which options there are to help these girls become strong and independent women!