What i could never have imagined Nice Nailantei Leng’ete (Kimana, Kenya, 1991) is that twice escaping the ritual of her cutting at the age of eight would save another 17,000 girls from being genitally mutilated. “I knew that I did not want them to do it to me when I saw how other girls who were circumcised were forced to leave school and were married right away; I knew that I could not make my dream come true,” says the ambassador of the Amref Health Africa organization , which works to ensure that there are alternative rites of the passage from childhood to adulthood that do not include female genital mutilation. Instead, they hand out books and teach sex ed classes at the school for boys and girls.
“They wake you up at four in the morning, they give you a cold shower, with which they say they will anesthetize you for the ritual, and you cannot move, cry or complain about the pain or you will embarrass your family. To flee, we ran through the forest because we could not do it along the main road, to the house of a sister of my mother and there we took refuge until they made us return. “This is how Nailantei Leng’ete relates how he escaped the blade the first time with her older sister. The second time only she escaped. “My sister told me: ‘We can’t keep running forever. The other time they beat us, to know what else they will do to us this time ‘”, explains Nailantei Leng’ete who decided to take refuge in the house of her teacher Caroline -” a source of inspiration for me “, she says – until she had enough fortitude to to go back and confront her eight-year-old grandfather and tell him she didn’t want to be mutilated, a practice that would keep her out of school forever, and that would marry her to an older man she hadn’t chosen.
From girl to woman without ablation and without dropping out of school
Nice Nailantei Leng’ete is the only one in her long family of brothers, stepbrothers and cousins in her community who had access to a higher education. Not having gone through emuatare, as the Maasai call the rite of passing from a girl to a woman with the edge of a blade, it was worth her to continue studying, despite the fact that it also earned her many misgivings and discomfort within her environment. “I helped many girls to flee from their mutilation ceremony because I felt that this way I would not be the only one indicated,” explains the young woman who in 2018 was considered by TIME magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Despite the fact that Kenya banned female genital mutilation in 2011, 21% of the country’s women between the ages of 15 and 49 have been victims of cutting
Despite the fact that Kenya banned female genital mutilation in 2011, 21% of the country’s women between the ages of 15 and 49 have suffered cutting. In the Maasai ethnic group, to which Nailantei Leng’ete belongs, the percentage increases to 78%, with the Samburu ethnic group being the most affected, with 86%. After standing up to her grandfather, this young woman orphaned of father and mother since the age of seven, and awarded the 2016 Mandela Washington Scholarship for Young African Leaders, it was her turn to face the morans —The council of young men from his community— those who after a year began to listen to his advice, and awarded him with a black cane, a badge that had only been received up to that moment by male persons. “Although I have received many awards, it is the one that has made me the most excited, for being a recognition of my own community,” he explains with a smile. “We need men to support us in making the change. The children of today in the future will be husbands, parents and will form the society of the future that must think that this is not the right thing to do ”.
Patience is one of the things that one learns when working with the change of mentality in a community; Also respect
In the Maasai ethnic group, all the great decisions of a woman are made by a man: when she mutilates, when she marries, who she marries, whether she goes to school or not. But Nailantei Leng’ete wanted this to change, but not by running away, as she did. “Running is not the solution, female genital mutilation must be eradicated by talking to the communities,” he says.
“Patience is one of the things that one learns when working with the change of mentality in a community; also respect: you have to allow them to speak and express themselves. Changes do not occur in a day, you have to give people time because they are profound changes “, explains the activist, who went up to the Campoamor theater in Oviedo to collect the Princess of Asturias Award for International Cooperation with which Amref was awarded.
“When you talk to people about the consequences of ablation, they tell you that it is a lie, that they have not seen any woman with difficulties in labor due to being mutilated, so it is necessary to combat false myths with facts and data”, by what Nailantei Leng’ete proposes, as one of the measures to end female genital mutilation, to give an alternative activity to all those who make a living from this practice, and that is not their main income. “It is an integral work to achieve better results”, he assures.
Nailantei Leng’ete, together with Amref Health Africa, has started a pan-African project in which, with the idiosyncrasies of each of the different countries, action is taken to eradicate ablation in Senegal, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda … “With years of experience in which the project has been a success, we can be an example for other communities, “he explains. Nailantei Leng’ete has always prepared advice that she gives to each of the girls who have come to ask her for help: “We can be whatever we want if we dream it. Nothing can stop you, go there and shine, get what you dream of” .
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