How economics can change thinking on FGM
A father can earn six cows and a goat by marrying off his circumcised daughter, but if she were to stay in school she could make enough money as an adult to support her entire family.
That's the powerful message Gladys Kiranto is using to persuade fathers to turn away from female genital mutilation (FGM) in Kenya. It sums up the girl effect perfectly.
In many Maasai communities in Kenya, FGM is a necessary step before a girl can be married. And the motivation for the practice, which can take place from the age of 12, is more than just cultural.
"It is not only about tradition, but also about money," says Gladys. "After the circumcision the girl gets married. Then the father does not have to pay school fees any more, and even receives a bride price from the groom (usually six cows and a goat). So FGM is also about financial standing."
Gladys is the founder of Tareto Maa, an organisation that supports girls who run away from home to avoid FGM. She is using the economic argument to change people's thinking on the issue.
"Send your girls to school instead of mutilating and selling them, because this education will benefit you and your family," says Gladys, who was the first girl in her village to rebel against FGM and early marriage.
A month after being reluctantly circumcised, Gladys was told she had to marry a 50-year-old man. The only way to avoid the marriage was to run away - so she ran. Her father disowned her, but when she returned after seven years, things had changed. She discovered her brothers had decided not to circumcise their daughters and even her father had changed his mind on FGM.
"He realised that his own family did not pay respect to his opinions and behaviour any more," says Gladys. "And, even more importantly, he saw that I was successful and that I managed to earn enough money to live independently and to provide support for my mother."
And that's the key to changing opinions in Kenya: convincing fathers that girls are more than just wives, they are of huge value to the community. But to unlock that potential, you need to give them an education.
"If a girl graduates from school, she can get a good job and will be able to support her parents when the parents get old," says Gladys, whose Tareto Maa centre provides shelter and education to 104 girls.
"We hope that the girls in the Tareto Maa centre will be role models for the other members of our community, and that everyone will see how important and valuable the education of girls is."
The story of the value of girls' education is already spreading. Based on what Tareto Maa has learned from talking with community leaders, instances of FGM are decreasing. But more needs to be done.
"It is not enough to tell people that FGM is illegal," says Gladys. "We must also explain why it is illegal. And it is important to understand why some people defend this practice so vehemently."
Gladys and Tareto Maa are at the heart of that educational process, running talks and publishing brochures aimed at reaching parents who are pro-FGM, with arguments that speak to them and address their concerns.
Although the journey is far from over, Gladys is optimistic that things are getting better for girls. "There are still so many girls who drop out of school before they complete primary school," she says. "And the rate of girls who attend secondary school is still too low in our area. However, there is progress and there is hope."
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