Sadly, no matter how far advanced we think we are as human beings, there are still places in the world where female genital mutilations are being carried out.
Female genital mutilation/cutting in Africa
According to a study, FGM/C is a major human rights issue in Africa. In some countries, it is performed by a nonmedical practitioner, usually for the purpose of fulfilling religious or cultural rites.
While this practice is illegal in the Western world, immigrants in these countries often practice FGM/C. The study noted that that in 2016, in Portugal, there may be over 6,500 immigrant women 15 years or older who have been circumcised and 1,830 girls under 15 years who are likely to or have undergone circumcision.
Reports have also shown that up to 140 million girls and women had undergone FGM/C around the world in 2000. The number is now estimated to be about 200 million in 2016.
A Kenyan woman is taking a stand
As a child, Nice Nailantei Leng’ete escaped the procedure of 'female cutting' by "running away," she told Yahoo. The first time she escaped the FGM ceremony, she was only 8. Now, almost 20 years later, she's fighting against this practice and has saved up to 15,000 girls from suffering 'the cut'.
Leng’ete has influenced the lives of many and this year, she was honored by being named one of Time's most influential people. Her battle was not an easy one especially considering the fact that she is fighting in a male-dominated community of Maasai.
She explained that the cutting was a symbol of womanhood. The women are not considered 'women' until they have undergone female genital mutilation.
FGM in my community connects to girls ending their education, with child marriage, and with teenage pregnancies. A girl is 10 or 12 years old when she undergoes FGM. Then she’s told she’s a woman, and that means she’s ready for marriage, and that means she has children. They all go together.
Ever since she was young Leng'ete knew she wanted something different, not just for herself but also for these girls. She recalled attending these ceremonies since she was 7 and seeing as many of the victims had to discontinue their education afterward.
Sharing her experience with the New York Times, she revealed that she escaped the ceremony twice. She also threatened her grandfather that she would run away forever if they made her endure the cut. The grandfather, afraid to lose her, gave her permission to forgo the ritual.
Even though she had his permission, Leng'ete was still ostracised by the community. Families would not let her play with their daughters, she said and everybody considered her a bad and disrespectful girl.
However, as she continued her education, Leng'ete started being seen as an inspiration in the Maasai community. Young girls would often seek her out to help them escape the cut. She tried hiding those who needed her help. But later on, she decided to use the tactic of bargaining.
After attending a workshop on women's health and sex, she managed to convince the community to listen to her. Even though it took a while to get their attention, Leng'ete was gradually able to reach them and show them that allowing children finish school and marry later will make the community as a whole more prosperous.
In 2014, the Maasai elders, who led up to 1.5 million people, renounced the practice of female genital mutilation, all thanks to this amazing woman. She was seen as a leader and managed to give the elders in the community an alternative way to hold on to their cultural rites.
They keep all that is good in the culture and only replace the harmful part, which is the cut. The special ceremonies, blessings of the elders, and everything else is kept to celebrate the transition from girlhood to womanhood. The cut is replaced with education. Girls can now become women in my community without the cut, and they can continue with their education instead of getting married and having children at a very young age.
Today, Leng'ete continues to spread the word about FGM/C in different parts of Kenya. Even though it's considered illegal in the country, some rural areas still uphold this practice. She hopes to continue to see girls in school, and little by little, protect more of them from being mutilated.