Photo from Flickr/Kalense Kid. Creative Commons licence.
Among the Yiaku, one of Kenya’s smallest ethnic groups, 98% of women aged over 30 have undergone female genital cutting (FGC), sometimes referred to as female genital mutilation (FGM). Those that have escaped being cut are ones born to fathers from outside communities.
Custom has it that girls are circumcised aged between 9 and 15 during April and December, about 1000 per year. Immediately after that local schools report that the number of girls attending school drops by 40%. There is a high rate of illiteracy.
Little is known about the Yiaku, a people with limited exposure to the outside world. They are believed to have settled in Mukogodo Forest about 4,000 years ago, apparently after migrating from Ethiopia. Their cultural beliefs have been dominated by the Maasai, but they are now trying to revive their own traditions and language Yiakunte. Very few, approximately 1.5% speak the language fluently, and they are elderly.
A campaign has begun among the Yiaku to eradicate FGM. Over the last year 200 girls have been given alternative rites of passage, and are given training on their rights, health issues, reproduction and HIV/Aids. At the first session, 40 girls were expected, but 72 turned up. Two weeks ago, 82 attended.
Slowly but surely progress is being made. The girls who have escaped the cut will be able to continue at school, contribute to their communities, and educate future generations.