Yet for all their survivor interviews and dedicated research, the myriad of features published in the New York Times, Le Monde, and The Daily Telegraph failed to make any serious dent at a grass roots level. Nearly 20 years later, FGM is still prevalent across Africa. In Tanzania, an estimated 17% of women aged between 15-45 years have been mutilated, which in rural areas among certain tribes runs up to 100%.
Step in one formidable Tanzanian woman named Mackrine Shao-Rumanyika, who is actually instigating change. Since 1993, Mackrine has campaigned against FGM through awareness programs in remote communities. What does this entail? Literally hopping in a 4WD and driving for hours and hours across dusty scrubland to educate remote Maasai villages all over the country. Mackrine’s campaigns always begin with a presentation to community leaders and chiefs: the elders and warriors need to be on board, convinced that abolition of FGM will benefit the health and prosperity of their village, and then spearhead the change.
The plight to eradicate FGM among Maasai communities is a tough one. For centuries, female circumcision has been a rite of passage in the Maasai culture, and the traditional birth attendants (also the cutters) have long been respected spiritual leaders. Once they surrender their tools, they are sacrificing their way of life and changing history for the next generation. It is a significant gesture.
Progress is slow going, as the Maasai villages are numerous, small and often isolated. Mackrine might invest a great deal of time to abolish FGM in one village, only to see a young girl marry into another village that is not educated. She will then be mutilated, and the practice lives on for another generation.
Last week, Mackrine had a few of us volunteers over to her place for dinner followed by a beginner’s workshop on FGM. As we gathered on her sofas, full of spiced vegetables and chapatti, Mackrine provided an intro to her organisation HIMS (Health Integrated Multisectoral Services), followed by an exhibition of FGM: an assortment of wooden vaginas demonstrating the varying degrees of absolutely fucking atrocious mutilation. The casual workshop was not at all casual, but gave us ignoramuses a proper look at what FGM actually was.