Rael and her grandma Alice oppose female genital mutilation

5 min read

Lähikuva 14-vuotiaasta Rael Kemuntosta, joka toimii silpomisen vastaisen työn lähettiläänä Keniassa. Kuva on ottanut valokuvaaja Nyasha Kadandara.

14-year-old Rael works as an ambassador against female genital mutilation (FGM) in her community. The results of her work are noticeable: half of the 14 girls in Rael’s class have been spared from FGM.

Rael’s grandmother Alice Mokeira John represents a generation for whom FGM has been self-evident, something that was not questioned. 50-year-old Alice once circumcised her own five daughters in accordance with the FGM tradition, without giving it a second thought.

Alice John on 50-vuotias isoäiti, joka istuu kuvassa mietteliäänä. Hän ympärileikkautti aikoinaan tyttärensä. Nyt hän vastustaa silpomisperinnettä. Valokuva Nyasha Kadandara.
50-year-old Alice once cut her daughters, because FGM was taken for granted and could not be questioned. Picture by: Nyasha Kadandara 2019.

Before the law prohibiting FGM (2011), girls of the Kisii tribe were openly mutilated by a traditional circumciser in a ceremony. FGM was celebrated in a spectacular manner and this transformation rite turned girls who were considered childish, into respected women.

“She will definitely be cut too”

Then Alice became a grandmother to little Rael.

“When Rael was born, I thought she’d definitely be cut too”.

In 2011, Kenya imposed a law that banned FGM. At the time, Rael was a 6-year-old little girl. The plan had been that Rael would be cut at the age of 10. However, grandmother Alice had second thoughts, and Rael and two other grandchildren were spared from FGM.

14-vuotias silpomisen vastainen lähettiläs nojaa aitaan kotipihallaan. Valokuvan on ottanut Nyasha Kadandara.
Rael along with her sisters and cousins were spared from FGM Picture by: Nyasha Kadandara 2019.

The tradition of FGM still lives strong

Despite the law banning FGM, all girls are not as lucky as Rael. Among the Kisii tribe, the tradition of FGM continues to be very strong: as much as 84% of girls and women aged 15-49 in the community have undergone FGM. An estimated 68% of the younger generations will be cut. Since FGM is illegal, the procedure is done secretly during vacation periods.

A role model for other girls

Rael is now 14 years old, and she has grown up uncut.

Rael’s father heard about the health problems caused by FGM in village meetings where International Solidarity Foundation’s (ISF) partners spoke about the subject. Now Rael’s both parents oppose the tradition, and Rael has been able to participate in school workshops organized by the ISF.

Kuvassa kenialainen äiti ja tytär istuvat lähekkäin ja nauravat.
Rael Kemunto and her grandmother Alice John are close to one another. Today, both women oppose FGM. Picture by: Nyasha Kadandara 2019.

As a result of the workshops, Rael has become an ambassador against FGM. She goes around telling the parents about the about the negative consequences of FGM.

What is FGM?

  • FGM refers to a cultural tradition where a girl’s or woman’s genitals are violated (UNICEF 2022).
  • In the procedure, part or all the girl’s external genitalia are damaged or removed (WHO 2022).
  • FGM is commonly performed on young girls. Every year, 3 million girls are mutilated (WHO 2022).
  • More than 200 million women and girls in more than 30 countries are currently living with FGM (UNICEF 2022).
  • There are no health reasons for FGM. Disadvantages caused by FGM can be both physical and mental. At worst, the procedure leads to the girl’s death.
  • FGM is not practiced for religious reasons, and it occurs in different parts of the world.