This story is part of World Pulse’s Campaign to End Violence Against Women. These testimonies, along with hundreds of others, were delivered to the fifty-seventh session of the Commission on the Status of Women.
World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring an end to gender-based violence. The EVAW Campaign elicits powerful content from women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as vocal grassroots leaders, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
KENYA: A Cruel Cut in the Name of Tradition
My story does not end with the ceremony. It is customary to be married soon after the cutting. I was to be married only one month after being circumcised. One morning, a man of about 60 years, married with five wives, came to my home.
I asked my mother, “Who is this?”
She said, “This is the man who wants to marry you. He has brought food, beverages, and blankets and is talking to your father now.”
I was upset, “No way am I going to marry this stranger!”
Three weeks later, the man came back. The final date for the marriage was set and a dowry agreed upon. I knew I had to run away again, and this time it had to be permanent. At sunrise I began my journey to the Maasai Mara Game Reserve. I knew there was work and perhaps someone who could help me. I walked all day until evening. When I arrived a man from my home district was willing to help me and I was given a job. I was lucky.
Back home, my mother did not wait for my father to beat her as a means of getting me to return home. She took my youngest brother (fortunately all my other siblings were old enough and had left home) and escaped to her own family. My mother’s older brother talked to my father and calmed the situation. Eventually, my father promised he would not beat my mother anymore. However, he said I was no longer his daughter and never wanted to see me again. I was cast out.
I didn’t see my father for seven years. During those years change was taking place for the better. My brothers refused to circumcise their own daughters, despite pressure from my father. In the end, even my father was persuaded to change his mind. When we met after all those years he said to me, “Come home Naing’olai. You are welcome.” He respected me for the stand I had taken.
In 2009, I founded an organization, Tareto Maa, on a personal vision and a determination to stop this barbaric practice that happened to me. I wanted to offer protection to young girls who had nowhere to go for help. I spoke with many people in my community who agreed to support the task of protecting girls from circumcision and child marriage.
In the beginning, there were seven girls who asked for shelter. Within 18 months this number had risen to 27 girls, all sheltered in private houses. Soon there were no more homes available for girls who came to ask for protection. We had to send new girls back home. I will never forget their tears and their despairing question: “Why have you helped some of the children but not me?”
By October 2010, we raised funds for a shelter, helped by a growing number of supporters, especially from Europe and North America. We opened in January 2011. Presently 96 girls are in our care. Our campaigning within the local community has also seen successes. Many families are starting to re-think the practice of circumcision and child marriage. But the fight is not yet over.
Many girls are still at risk, and there is still a long way to go. I want to offer girls the protection that I, and many others like me, needed but did not have when we were young. I believe there can be an alternate rite of passage for a girl to become a woman: a practice where each girl will benefit her family by having health and an education. Terato Maa works to make this dream a reality.