Safe in Serengeti: Young women and girls seek refuge from female genital mutilation in Mara, Tanzania
“Many girls flee their homes with nothing more than the clothes they were wearing,” says Apaisaria Kiwori, as she instructs the designated cooks to stir the pots of red kidney beans and rice for dinner. Kiwori is the head matron of the only safe house in Mugumu, Serengeti, in the Mara region of north-western Tanzania that takes in young girls escaping child marriage, domestic abuse and sexual assault; but primarily girls who are escaping female genital mutilation (FGM).
The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (managed by UN Women on behalf of the UN system) has supported Amref Health Tanzania to launch an awareness raising and advocacy programme here in January 2016, aiming to end FGM practices in the region. According to the Tanzania Demographic Health Survey 2015, the FGM prevalence rate in Mara is 32 per cent, more than three times the national average.
“Every two years, girls as young as age four are registered with local clan leaders to undergo the cut,” explains Godfrey Matumu, Project Manager for Amref Health Africa in Mara. “In December 2016, 5,621 girls of the Kurya tribe were registered, and 41 per cent were cut.” The numbers seem daunting, but Matumu assures us that the trainings and awareness raising sessions have made significant progress: “In comparison, during the last high season in December 2014, 14,122 girls were registered and it is highly likely that all of them were cut.” Matumu and his team attribute the 60 per cent drop in the numbers to greater understanding of the health consequences of FGM; and increased awareness and support of village elders and local elders to stop the practice.
Back at the safe house, it is a little after sundown and seventeen-year old Elizabeth Thomas Mniko has just returned from her extra classes at school. Mniko is preparing for the upcoming national exams for senior secondary students—something she didn’t think would have been possible three years ago when her father registered her to undergo the cut.
Unable to change her father’s mind, Mniko sought refuge at the safe house. “It takes great courage to leave your entire world behind. Some of the younger girls here didn’t even know that it would be the last time they see their friends and families. They left thinking they could go back. But the families have rejected them,” she says. Read more►
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