A Safe Haven for Girls
NAROK, Kenya - The Tasaru Ntomonok Center run by Agnes Pareyio is a safe haven for girls escaping FGM/FGC and forced marriages. With UNFPA support, the Tasaru Ntomonok Center offers girls in Kenya a safe, empowering journey into womanhood-without a cut. This "Alternative rites of passage" is a culturally sensitive approach - one that respects the value of the tradition, but rejects the violence associated with it.
Female genital mutilation/cutting is a deeply rooted tradition in Kenya, as well as Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda and some countries in West Africa and the Arab States. Though it was outlawed in Kenya in 2001, many communities, such as the Pokots and the Maasai, continue to practice FGM/FGC as an important rite of passage to womanhood. "The law makes female genital mutilation and cutting illegal. But it will take a long time for it to be effective. In the meantime, we need to be educating and sensitizing our communities about the negative effects of the practice. We also need to offer them alternative rites of passage," says Ms. Pareyio.
"In this community, girls are circumcised between 9 and 13 years and, soon after, married off," says Ms. Pareyio. Marrying off young girls is the end of the road for their education. We must not allow this." For Phyllis Kamwaro, 16, the rescue centre represents not just safety but also hope for a brighter future. "I want to be a doctor," she says. Phyllis took refuge at the Center after her father tried to force her to undergo FGM. The
Tasaru Ntomonok initiative conducts two alternative rites of passage yearly, in August and November. Participants, ages nine and older, are voluntarily enrolled in the rite by their parents. During the first five days in residence, the girls are given lessons on reproductive health, sexuality and the challenges of adulthood. "We invite old women to teach the young girls everything in their culture except cutting. They are taught social interaction, including how to handle their home and husband," says Ms. Pareyio.
On the sixth day, parents and other members of the community are invited to a public ceremony marking the girls' transition to adulthood. The ceremony is accompanied by communal feasting, certificates and gifts, declarations by the girls that they will not be cut, and promises by the parents and the community leaders to abandon FGM/FGC.
UNFPA funded the construction of the building where the girls receive training. It also pays school fees for the girls and supports outreach and advocacy activities. The project leases a 100-hectare farm where the centre grows wheat and runs a maize mill to provide income for women who formerly earned money by performing FGM/FGC.
The Centre provides protection and offers education and vocational training opportunities to the girls; the rescue centre also tries to reconcile them with their parents and communities. So far, it has reunited 88 girls with their families.
Ending Violence Against Women