Earlier this week a story was reported in the media highlighting that over 100 girls in the Mara region of Tanzania had escaped to a safe camp after fleeing Female Genital Mutilation exercises back at their villages.
As the story was running on BBCs radio news hour with interviewed local sources expressing optimism that the event pointed to gains being made in the fight against FMG it also dawned on me that for a long time I had not heard of a girl, let alone a group of them, escaping such scenarios on their own.
Or let’s say girls ‘managing’ to escape from an FGM practice is usually an unlikely feat to be achieved. Just a week prior to the Tanzanian incident, fully fledged Kenyan authorities in Baringo County failed to rescue several girls from their village who were being prepared for the cut. Their reason? The community turned hostile and threatened to roll stones from their vantage positions, the village being at the top a rocky hill, at their attackers if they dared make their move. Be that as it may, the rescue contingent who included administration officers and armed regular police eventually gave up on their efforts, apparently leaving the poor horrified girls at the mercy of their tormentors.
Suffice it to say it seemed there were no subsequent developments on the story but am assuming it’s because the authorities failed to come up with alternative means to help those girls. Now, isn’t that an unwise decision to take? What signals are we sending to communities that perpetrate the practice? Are we telling them that, well, if you resist us we’ll leave you to it?
And what about the potential victims? Should they expect no more than ‘attempts’ to rescue them even when the right information has reached the right people at the right time? Surely we can do better. Coming to my point, communities that have hold onto the practice of FGM are usually rebellious of any form of sensitization or campaign against the vice. Often they can be treacherous too. In the Kenyan case an administration officer was quoted saying that they were going to prosecute one of the village’s elder whose daughters were among the initiates and who had been actively participating in the government-led campaigns against FGM in the area. And most of the times poor girls either awaiting FGM to be conducted on them or undergoing the cut have had to be rescued either by government agents, activists or well wishing members of the public. This has been and continues to be the prevailing situation and that is why I think the Tanzanian case is a commendable one. Not that am suggesting rescue attempts by third parties are not worth it. If anything, on the whole they have helped saved thousands of girls and women.
But the fact that girls aged between 10 to 16 did something, however risky, when the opportunity presented itself shows that young girls in FGM prone areas are becoming innovative and aggressive in shaping their own destinies. It takes guile and wit to outwit and outrun a hostile enemy, especially when the enemy seems to have a moral authority over you and most important of all when you have to make your escape literally from the ‘lion’s mouth.’
Some of the girls made it to the safe camp badly injured and some bleeding from injuries they sustained from their attackers as they tried to run. These girls deserve kudos for not only discerning their right to escape but also for grabbing it with both hands. The Gender Based Violence and FGM project of the Mara Diocese of the Anglican Church of Tanzania equally deserves a thumbs up for giving the girls hope knowing there would be someone to take them in.
As the on-going female genital mutilation season which kicked off early this month in various parts of Mara Region continues to prey on potential victims it is comforting to know that girls who take matters into their own hands can be assured of a safe haven.