The story of FGM in Masaai communities – and why we need to abolish it now

Once upon a time in a Maasai pastoral community in Tanzania, the community members were living in a peaceful society. The members were guided by the traditional laws, customs and taboos. The traditional leaders’ decisions were final and conclusive.

Men and women had different rights and responsibilities - for the Maasai, age among men had the biggest influence. Age and gender among the Maasai dictated social interactions, household duties, political power, and rituals. Plotted on a graph, man’s responsibility in society would be bell shapped. As they grew older, men attained more and more responsibility. For instance political power and decision making were in the hands of men, while women were responsible for domestic chores.

Although women had no decision making in the community, the community was free from one thing - Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). But this did not last. One day, the men came together with the traditional leaders agreed and announced otherwise - or so my grandfather tells me.

Youth For Change Tanzania team carrying out outreach work in a Maasai community [Credit: Youth For Change]

Youth For Change Tanzania team carrying out outreach work in a Maasai community [Credit: Youth For Change]

As we all know, the Maasai are nomadic pastoralist, so men travel around with herds of cattle from one place to another in search for pastures and water. When they move with the cattle, women stay behind to taking care of the children, the sick, and elderly people.

Remember - if men travel with herds of cattle they may stay for six months, one year or more. They began experiencing troubling things with their wives and young girls who were left behind.  When men returned from their travels, they would find women and young girls either pregnant or with babies.

In looking for a solution to this behavior, men together with traditional leaders passed the taboo that it’s unacceptable for any young girl or young boy to meet as husband and wife before undergoing a circumcision. Circumcision for young boys and FGM for young girls was now become part and parcel of the norms, customs and culture. Any boy and girls has to be initiated in order to be regarded as a grown up man or woman in the society. Failure to do so and you will be regarded as a child regardless of your age.

The taboo was strict that if one was not initiated he/she will be segregated by other members of the society. As for women it is worse because you will not allowed to be married - if it happened you conceived while unmarried, nobody would help in the time of delivery until you had undergone FGM. This is how the taboo was serious, strict and respected.

Why FGM should be banned?

Njuri Ncheke Council of Elders, who have committed to help end FGM in Maasai communities [Credit: Plan International]

Njuri Ncheke Council of Elders, who have committed to help end FGM in Maasai communities [Credit: Plan International]

“Before initiation, I was very strong and able to compete with men in the running games and I could win them all” says my aunt – but afterwards her might and strength disappeared. She continued saying as I can recall a certain woman who was undergone FGM and died during delivery due excessive bleeding.

According to the human rights activists, FGM should be stopped because the act is a violation of human rights – it’s an inhuman cruel and antiquated practice and is performed on young girls before the age of maturity.

Medical doctors proved that FGM is has no health and medical benefits to girls and women, rather it causes a lot of problems to the person. These include psychological problems, trauma, loss of blood, difficulties during delivery and even death.

After understanding the impacts of FGM to a person’s life, my grandpa said that though it is hard for my community to stay away from this practice, as it has become part and parcel of the maasai culture, it is nevertheless necessary to stop it. The first thing we can do to change this practice is through educating the society impacts of FGM in person’s life.