breakthrough in FGM for the Maasai
To commemorate International Day of the Girl Child 2022, influential leaders from the Maasai community from Kenya and Tanzania will unite in Taita-Taveta County to discuss a long-term strategy to enhance efforts against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in both countries. This action represents a breakthrough in FGM for the Maasai, an ethnic group that has been practicing the practice for centuries. There is the hope that solutions will emerge to support the repression of the deadly action in the region.

About FGM

FGM is a procedure involving the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. Rather than a clinical practice that brings upon health benefits, it does the opposite, causing severe pain, bleeding, fever, infections, shock and even death. As of 2022, according to data available from 30 countries where people practice FGM in the Western, Eastern and North-Eastern regions of Africa and some countries in the Middle East and Asia, more than 200 million females alive today have experienced the practice. Furthermore, there are more than 3 million girls that estimates have estimated are at risk of the practice annually.

FGM in Maasai Communities

The Maasai are a semi-nomadic community located in Kenya and Tanzania. Their population is estimated to be 900,000 individuals and they migrate in search of pasture and water for their animals.

According to a Maasai myth, FGM began in the community when a girl named Napei had sexual intercourse with a family enemy. To punish her and suppress the desires that influenced her to commit the act, she underwent FGM. Since then, every Maasai girl reaching adolescence has undergone it s a way to restrict sexual desire and promiscuity. The ceremony itself is a large annual celebration for all the girls who reach adolescence during the year. Groups of girls aged between 12 and 14 undergo the practice by traditional ‘circumcisers’ or experienced elderly women. They use a sharp instrument known as a ‘ormurunya’ (a sharpened knife) before they apply a paste of cow dung and milk fat to stop any bleeding.

After the ceremony, the girls go into isolation where they learn their duties and responsibilities as women. They then return to the Maasai community, where others then perceive them as fully grown women capable of marrying. By undergoing FGM, Maasai girls bring honor, respect and dignity to both themselves and their families.

FGM Legislation in Kenya and Tanzania

Due to its lack of health benefits, people internationally recognized FGM as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted sexual inequality while being an extreme form of discrimination against them. Despite being widespread amongst the Maasai, over the last 20 years, Kenya and Tanzania have made breakthroughs in FGM legislation, showing their condemnation of the practice.


In 1998, the Sexual Offences Special Provisions Act (SOSPA) passed, criminalizing and punishing the performance of FGM on girls under the age of 18 years. The punishment for breaking the law was between zero and 15 years of imprisonment, along with “a fine of 300,000 Tanzanian shillings.”

Following this, the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children announced a five-year National Plan of Action to End Violence Against Women and Children between 2017-2022. An improvement from the 1998 Act, which only imprisoned those that carried out FGM, the National Plan tackles eight specific areas which involve women and girls, and FGM. These are:

  • The strengthening of household economics
  • Social values and norms
  • The promotion of safe environments
  • Parental and family support
  • The enforcement of law
  • Support services
  • Promotion of safe schools
  • Coordination


In October 2011, the government passed the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act. The Act itself prohibited the practice of FGM while safeguarding against the violation of a person’s mental/physical integrity. It established a board whose functions were to:

  • Design, supervise and coordinate public awareness programs.
  • Advise the government on matters related to FGM.
  • Design and formulate policies on the planning, financing and coordinating of activities related to FGM.
  • Provide technical support to institutions engaged in programs aimed at FGM eradication.

Kenya also criminalized the practice with a minimum punishment of three years imprisonment and a 242,800 shilling fine.

The Future

While the legislation passed in Kenya and Tanzania against FGM, coupled with increased awareness around its harmful effects have helped to reduce prevalence rates, the deep-rooted practice still remains as communities discover new ways to avoid persecution. Cross-border FGM within Maasai communities remains across Kenya- Tanzania borders, and it is increasingly present in Kenya and Uganda.

However, the ascension of the Maasai leaders in Taita-Taveta County represents a breakthrough in FGM amongst their community. It constitutes a new and optimistic future for the eradication of the practice. Country commissioner Loyford Kibaara stated how “this dialogue is timely” and that all key stakeholders will be involved in the matter to help design strategies to “contain the outdated practice.” With a focus on the social norms, values and attitudes which revolve around FGM, the discussion reflects a large breakthrough in FGM for the Maasai, bringing hope that their traditional beliefs can change.

– Harkiran Bharij
Photo: Flickr

Kenya’s Female Maasai
As is often the case in many poor global communities, Maasailand has a culture of gender inequality. The majority of Kenya’s female Maasai are enslaved by cultural belief systems, denying them from achieving basic human rights. Fortunately, there are advocates working to change this reality and improve women’s rights in Maasailand, Kenya.

Intimate Portrait of Kenya’s Female Maasai

Even in the 21st century, many Maasai women are not educated or only have a partial education. Young women are usually forced into marriage by their fathers into more privileged communities in exchange for cattle and cash. All Maasai girls are subject to a cultural tradition known as the cutting ceremony. It is an annual rite of passage in which girls’ clitorises are cut to signify their transition into womanhood and to mark daughters eligible for marriage. Despite the fact Kenya has outlawed genital cutting to prevent the deaths of even more young Maasai girls, male tribal elders continue to enforce the ritual.

According to the Lööf Foundation, a Swedish nonprofit organization working to improve the lives of international youth, the Kenyan Maasai community lacks adequate health care and Maasai women must travel long distances to receive medical treatment or give birth. The foundation reported that approximately 75 percent of Maasai women give birth on roadsides because the nearest health centers are too far away and that each year one out of every 10 Maasai women and an estimated 20 percent of Maasai infants die during roadside deliveries.

Maasai women can never divorce, except in extreme cases of physical abuse. They are prohibited from remarrying, even if they are widowed in their teens, and merely become the property of one of their husband’s brothers. They will be one of many wives and bear many children, regardless of their health or ability to provide for them.

However, there are various organizations that are working for improving the rights of Kenya’s female Maasai.

Organizations Empowering Kenya’s Female Maasai

  1. The Lööf Foundation is constructing the Kenswed Maternity and Health Center in Ngoni, Kenya. The center will provide both prenatal and antenatal care, as well as general health care to the public and sexual education to youths. The foundation hopes the center will reduce the high maternal and infant mortality rates.
  2. The Maasai Education, Research and Conservation (MERC) Institute works to preserve the Maasai culture and community. It partners with various types of organizations and the Kenyan government to ensure Maasai people’s empowerment and to establish social policies that will create benefits like universal clean water access. MERC co-founded the Maasai Girls Education Fund and also supports schools dedicated to girls’ education.
  3. The Maasai Girls Education Fund (MGEF) provides scholarships to all Maasai girls. Scholarships are all-inclusive and cover everything from uniforms and books to personal hygiene supplies. MGEF also offers performance monitoring, counseling and provides community education workshops to address the social customs and cultural beliefs inhibiting girls’ education. Workshops are open to anyone with the authority within the community to influence cultural change. MGEF provides business training and seed grants to rural Maasai women. Upon completing their educations, girls have the economic independence and ability to assert their rights as women. The goal is to increase female education enrollment by giving them the necessary tools to economically better their families and educate their children.
  4. Katy Leakey, the proprietor of Fair Trade Winds, started The Leakey Collection, a line of jewelry created by Maasai women to help their families combat the financial hardships resulting from prolonged droughts. The jewelry is made from reeds that would otherwise be burned to plant grass for cattle feed. The reeds are cut, dyed and crafted into bead-like pieces called Zulugrass. Her business model enables Maasai women to be entrepreneurs, not employees. These women take Zulugrass kits back to their communities and employ others to assist them. This newfound empowerment is enriching the lives of Kenya’s female Maasai by making them happy, independent and resilient.

The Story of Nice Leng’ete

As children, Nice Leng’ete and her older sister, Soila Leng’ete, would flee their homes during genital cutting season. Then one year, Soila did not run. Nice kept reminding Soila they were fleeing for a purpose, but despite Nice’s pleas, Soila still surrendered herself to the centuries-old custom. The trauma Soila endured ingrained itself in Nice’s memory. She made her life’s mission to protect other Maasai girls from the same fate by founding a program that travels to villages throughout Maasailand collaborating with elders and girls to form new, symbolic rites of passage in place of cutting. According to a January 2018 New York Times report, Nice Leng’ete had saved 15,000 girls from genital cutting thus far.

Kenya’s female Maasai experience heartbreaking living conditions that are a direct result of cultural beliefs and traditions that consider women as less valuable. Due to these reasons, the Maasai women are forced into marriage and a life of manual labor. However, the power of change shall not be doubted, and for Kenya’s female Maasai, the proof lies in the advocates working to improve their lives forever.

– Julianne Russo

Photo: Flickr