Agnes Pareyio: Ending FGM One Girl at a Time

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Agnes Pareyio in front of the Tasaru Girls Rescue Center.

Bruce Gulland and Liz Waid tell about a woman who is working to stop the tradition of FGM in her community.

Voice 1  

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Bruce Gulland.

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And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

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Voice 1  

Mercy and Agnes are sisters from Kenya. They are part of the Maasai tribe. They told their story to the organization Equality Now. When they were 10 and 11 years old, they were supposed to take part in a ceremony. This ceremony would celebrate moving from being a girl to a woman. Ceremonies like this are often beautiful and exciting. But Mercy and Agnes were afraid. They knew that this ceremony would also involve cutting their sexual organs.

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Mercy and Agnes did not want to go through the ceremony. They decided to run away. They received help from some adults they knew. These adults guided them to Tasaru Ntomonok Initiative, or TNI. Tasaru means “rescue” in the local Maa language. There, they met Agnes Pareyio. Today’s Spotlight is on Agnes Pareyio and her work to end female genital mutilation.

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Women all around the world have experienced female genital mutilation, or FGM. FGM involves cutting a woman’s sexual organs. It can involve a small cut, or completely cutting off a woman’s sexual organs. The World Health Organization estimates that 200 million girls have been cut.

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There are no medical reasons to cut. And FGM often causes severe pain, extreme bleeding, and infections. Some girls even die. Even if the girl lives, FGM can cause problems with her body and in childbirth.

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Governments and organizations internationally recognize that FGM is a violation of human rights. However, FGM still happens in many cultures. For many, it is a cultural tradition. People are often strongly attached to these traditions.

A girl in Kenya on an empty field
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This is why Agnes Pareyio continues her work. Pareyio comes from the Maasai culture in Kenya. When she was 14, her mother told Agnes she would be cut. Agnes did not want to be cut. Her father supported her. But her village did not support her. They made fun of her and called her names. They said they would never accept her. They said no one would marry her.

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So, Pareyio agreed and had her sex organs cut. She bled a lot and was in a lot of pain. But she did not cry, because she did not want to look like she was afraid. Maasai women are not supposed to show fear. Instead, she felt something else. Pareyio told One Billion Rising:

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“As I lay there after being cut, I made myself a promise. I was going to do everything I could to stop this ever happening to another girl. My daughters would not be cut. And the daughters of the Maasai would not be cut.”

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This promise has defined Pareyio’s life. FGM was banned in Kenya in 2011. But it continues there. Pareyio works in Kenya to stop FGM, especially with the Maasai. She founded TNI in 1999. It began as a place where girls who ran away from FGM and early marriages could continue their education. But today, two of TNI’s most important programs deal with protecting girls from FGM.

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One of TNI’s programs involves different ceremonies for girls to become women. As a member of the Maasai tribe, Pareyio knows how culturally important FGM is for many women. She wants to offer another choice that protects young girls from FGM but still honors Maasai traditions. The traditional ceremony for Maasai girls to become women is four days long. The girls dress in their best clothes and wear their most beautiful jewelry. They sing traditional songs, and tribal leaders bless the girls with milk and water. A leader performs FGM on the girls. And at the end of the ceremony, the community welcomes them as women.

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The new ceremonies honor the beauty of the tradition while stopping the FGM. All of the elements of the traditional custom are the same except that the girl is not cut. Instead, the girl receives information about the value of education and health.

A Masai woman
Image by Gordon Turibamwe from Pixabay
Voice 1  

Other organizations also use this method. They keep the good parts of the ceremony. But they replace the cutting with a symbol. Instead of cutting, leaders pour milk on a girl’s legs to represent how she has become a woman. Sarah Tenoi is another Maasai anti-FGM activist in Kenya. She explains the purpose of these new ceremonies to The Guardian:

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“We know that if we can change everyone’s mind then we will end FGM. Our message is that we are encouraging people to change one part of Maasai culture, but not give up all of what makes us proud to be Maasai.”

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TNI’s other main program is to reconnect girls to their families. Most of the girls who run away from FGM do not want to stay away from their families forever. So Pareyio and her co-workers decided to use a traditional Maasai reconciliation process to return the girls to their families and their village.

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This process involves meeting with parents, family members, and other members of the community. Village leaders and other officials also become involved. Everyone works together and promises not to force the girls to be cut. It is a village-wide promise to protect and support the girls. And it welcomes the girls to come home and become part of the village again.

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Pareyio explains to The Huffington Post how important it is for entire communities to be involved in these reconciliation ceremonies:

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“The ceremonies are a public promise by the girls and their families to keep them away from FGM, early marriage and other dangers that they could face when they are young women, when they are extra vulnerable.”

Voice 1  

Six years after they ran away from home, Mercy and Agnes returned to their village through one of these reconciliation ceremonies. They saw their family again and were accepted back into their community. They are no longer afraid of FGM.

Women of the Maasai
Image by Alex Strachan from Pixabay
Voice 2  

Changing a culture is a long and difficult process. It involves patience, understanding, and working with many different people. But Pareyio continues to work to end FGM in the Maasai culture, one girl at a time.

Voice 1  

What about you? Are there ceremonies in your culture that you would like to change? You can tell us about it on our website. Or email us at radio@radioenglish.net. Or find us on Facebook at Facebook.com/spotlightradio.

Voice 2  

The writer of this program was Lauren Anders Visser. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, “Agnes Pareyio: Ending FGM One Girl at a Time”.

Voice 1  

Look for our free listening app in the Google Play Store and in iTunes. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

What kinds of traditions do you have in your culture when you become an adult? Do you think they are good or bad? Write your answer below.

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10 comments
  • this topic has many concerns in the present culture of this generation.
    I hope it will not continue circulate.
    it is dangerous for girls and women

  • Hello Spotlight English program!!
    I am Truong (man), I am live in Vietnam.
    After I read this program, I learn so much about the culture of a national in the world.
    Thank you for your program!
    And so as to respond your program contents, I will answer above question as follow:
    In Vietnam, Ao Dai (Áo Dài) is a fashion traditional of my country.
    When I was 15 years old, my classmate girl friends start to wear Áo Dài when they went to school. I felt very proud of my fashion traditional. Because it is very beautiful and charming on Vietnam women.
    And I think that it is good for a small country but many hero traditional.
    I proud of my country.
    When you have free time, welcome to my country for tour, it is very good for searching a new traditional.

    By the way, please help to correct my gramme!
    Thank you very much !
    Good day to Spotlight English!

  • In saudi arabia when the girl be adult she has to wear ( Abaya) when she want to go outside her home. Abaya is a simple, loose over-garment, essentially a robe-like dress, worn by some women in parts of the Muslim world including North East Africa, Somalia, Morocco, and the Arabian Peninsula.[1] Traditional abayat are black and may be either a large square of fabric draped from the shoulders or head or a long kaftan. The abaya covers the whole body except the head, feet, and hands. It can be worn with the niqāb, a face veil covering all but the eyes. Some women also wear long black gloves, so their hands are covered as well.

  • Es un dolorosa tradición, espero que no se mantenga en la actualidad. En mi pais, hay tribus que se mantienen aisladas en la amazonia sin embargo no practican estas inhumanas tradiciones.

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