Lozwi Longinai was preparing for her wedding day last month in northern Lingate village, but at the last minute her groom changed his mind after realising that his 18-year-old fiancée had not been circumcised.
“This is very bad. We are being rejected by our own society because we have refused to be circumcised,” Longinai complained.
While female genital mutilation (FGM) is on the decline in Tanzania, the practice remains widespread in some rural areas, and in Maasai communities like Lingate in the northern Arusha region, dozens of women are being turned away in marriage because they have refused to be cut, according to an NGO working in the region.
That’s grim. I’m guessing that in rural areas in developing countries there aren’t a lot of possibilities for women who don’t marry.
Women rights groups say the best way to stop FGM is by engaging those who have abandoned the practice to educate society about its risks – including the family of girls like Sara Lukumai, a Maasai woman who narrowly escaped the procedure.
She was 16 when her mother told her it was time to face the knife as part of the Maasai tradition that prepares girls to be women.
“As I was coming from school one day, I saw a group of women gathered at our home singing and ululating. I realised it was my turn, but I strongly refused,” the woman, now 19, told Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.
Her father, Lengai Ole Lukumai – a Maasai herder in the village of Oldonyosambu, about 35km from Arusha – supported his daughter’s refusal because his six other daughters did not benefit from undergoing the procedure.
“I have had enough of it. I know it is a break in tradition, but I wanted to show how bad some of our customs are,” he said. “I am still a follower of my traditions, but I just don’t want any more cuts for my children because I have realised it brings more harm than good.”
His wife was not pleased because their daughter’s rejection of the ritual was a disgrace to the family and would be seen as an act of cowardice, but she could not argue with her husband.
The girl, meanwhile, was ridiculed by friends who had been circumcised, but she saw it as a necessary act of defiance to tell villagers that it was high time to abandon outdated traditions.
In her impoverished community, many parents are unable to afford school fees and so marry their girls off at a young age. Uneducated and too young to fight back, many girls undergo FGM as the traditional precursor to marriage.
Grateful that her father supported her, Sara Lukumai sees education as the way to fight poverty and FGM.
“I want to study. It is through education that I can help my family get out of poverty,” said the girl, who is now in her second year at a secondary school in Arusha. “I want to be a teacher so that I can help fellow citizens to reject bad traditions.”
Good luck to her.