‘Morans’ refers to an age-set of men in Maasai communities - under the age set system, groups of the same age are initiated into adult life during the same period. The age-set thus formed is a permanent grouping, and lasts throughout the life of its members. Lorna set out to find out why certain Morans in Kenya are beginning to turn their back on FGM and child marriage.
Morans move up through a hierarchy of grades, each lasting approximately 15 years, including those of junior warriors, senior warriors, junior elders (sometimes classed as senior warriors), and senior elders, who are the ones who make decisions affecting the whole tribe.
In a promising development, Morans in Rombo, Lugulului, Kuku and Mbirikani manyattas, Loitoktok have become the first first-age sets of Morans to turn their backs on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and child and early forced marriage (CEFM).
This current set of Morans sworn in in 2011, has ten more years to rule, meaning during their tenure there will hopefully be few to almost no cases of FGM and CEFM. This declaration gives girls an opportunity to go to school and live up to their dreams.
Engaging men in the fight to end FGM
One of the main reasons why FGM is practiced among this community is to prepare a girl for womanhood and for marriage. Most girls ages 8-15 are circumcised and married off immediately leading to high school dropout cases.
I sought to find out why these sets of Morans are against FGM, a culture that has been rampant among the Maasai community for decades. I visited two manyattas, Rombo and Lugulului. The Morans have been trained by AMREF Health Africa and a few other local CBOs mainly Network of Youths in Action (NOYA) on the effects of FGM on their girls. As a result, they’ve wholesomely agreed to be the protectors of their girls and women.
They’ve seen that the consequences of failing to educate girls has led to underdevelopment in their region. Needless to mention, they also confessed that uncircumcised girls are better to marry since they enjoy sex with them as opposed to cut girls who are hard to arouse! They are therefore appealing to women to spare the girls.
NOYA, under its programme, Morans For Girlchild Education and Empowerment (M4GEE) has been able to bring together Morans to learn about the effects of FGM and Early Marriage. Morans under this programme are holding yearly festivals dubbed the ‘Moran Festival’ where performances are held to raise funds towards education of girls.
The Morans, apart from being physical guardians of the community and the decision makers, are also role models to younger boys and their peers. Marriage before used to be determined by fathers, but these days marriage is no longer a father’s choice - the decision has entirely been left for the boys to decide when and whom to marry.
Alternative transitions to womanhood
I also interacted with a number of female ex-cutters who have proudly dropped the knife and converted to champions and strong activists who condemn FGM and call for arrests on other females who are still secretly cutting girls.
Transitioning to womanhood is now taught during school holidays. Amref Health Africa has been teaching girls about Alternative Rites of Passage (ARPs), during school holidays in April, August and December. ARP is a cultural day event which embraces the positive cultural training and ceremonies that initiate girls from childhood to womanhood but removes the harmful cut. The girls are also awarded certificates as a show of passage.
Alternative rites of passage among other anti-FGM campaigns have been estimated to be 80% productive in Loitoktok. More and more girls are attending schools. Morans have taken it upon themselves to ensure that girls complete primary secondary school and college education since they will significantly contribute to development in their own community and the country at large.
Working with communities and governments to end FGM
The Morans together with the local leaders have been the strong voice behind the reduction of FGM in Loitoktok and the strong security that curbs cross-border FGM. Cross border FGM is when girls are taken to the neighbouring country Tanzania for FGM since Tanzania has not yet outlawed the practise. The Morans are however watchful of these cases because the last case in 2013 led to a girl bleeding to death.
The East Africa Legislative Assembly (EALA) in May this year introduced a bill outlawing the harmful practice which affects young women and girls in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania. It is seen as critical among the six member states to totally prohibit Female Genital Mutilation. if this bill is enacted, cross boarder FGM is going to be totally illegal.
Additionally, Morans here are involved in exchange programs with other Morans in Tanzania to help them understand the effects of FGM. They also consult each other a lot on various issues and celebrate most ceremonies together.
By working on the ground with both men and women in practicing communities, and alongside governments to outlaw harmful traditional practices, we can keep the battle to end child marriage and FGM moving forward.
Read Lorna's last blog about NOYA and tackling FGM in Kenya here.
Check out The Girl Generations music video on ending FGM in Kenya below...