Watta Hamesa village in the outskirts of Hola Town, Tana River County, is free from the practice of female genital
mutilation (FGM), a tradition the Watta community has held dear for eons.
Thanks to 78-year old Fatuma Hajibo Jarso, formerly a famous “female circumciser,” Hamesa village has abandoned the practice for ten years now.
Hajibo, as many in the village prefer calling her, courageously laid down her tools of trade and vowed that she would never again engage in the practice.
No one else has taken her mantle and as the villagers say, no girl or woman from the village has since ever undergone the rite of passage common among pastoralist communities in the county.
“I abandoned the practice in 2009 and since then, no girl or woman has undergone the rite of passage in this village,” she says.
In addition, she says she has since spread the anti-FGM message to other Watta villages in the county and is optimistic that members of the minority community willcompletely abandoned the ritual.
“If I get facilitation from the government and other well-wishers,I am sure I will be able to convince other members of my Watta community to completely abandon the retrogressive practice,” she says.
The Watta people are mostly found in the rural arid and semi-arid lands of Kenya where they are called different names, most of them derogatory.
They are scattered all over the country including Tana River, where they can be found in all the three sub counties of Tana River, Tana North and Tana Delta, albeit in minority proportions.
The people, were traditionally hunters and gatherers, but now have turned to farming and livestock keeping after being assimilated into farming and pastoralist communities. This is after the government outlawed unlicensed game hunting.
Hajibo says she started ‘cutting’ girls at a tender age and became famous among her people. She however, had to abandon the practice after the government outlawed it and started cracking down on perpetrators.
Hajibo says the practice is a very lucrative business. She used to earn Sh.1, 000 for every girl she circumcised ten years ago.
The charges may have gone up owing to the risks involved especially after the government banned the practice and started cracking down on perpetrators.
When the then 68-year old heard that the government had banned female genital mutilation, she voluntarily offered to abandon her only source of livelihood.
“I was earning Sh.1, 000 for every girl I cut, but when I heard the government had banned the practice, I stopped it and surrendered my tools to then Tana River District Commissioner, Wanyama Musiambo,” she says.
Musiambo is currently the Deputy Head of the Public Service.
Hajibo says she was introduced to the then DC by Saddia Sango Hussein, a former Tana River Nominated Member of County Assembly, who was then and still is an anti-FGM crusader.
“I went to Saddia and told her I wanted to abandon the trade and she took me to the DC, who gave me ten goats in
appreciation,” Hajibo says.
Asked why she decided to abandon the trade yet FGM was one of the cultural practices of the Watta, Hajibo says she is a law abiding Kenyan and would not fight with the government.
“I did not want to fight with the government, and neither did I want to engage in any other illegal trade like smuggling,” she says.
She says she does not regret making that decision, but adds that it seems the government has forgotten her contribution in the fight against the practice.
The Kenya News Agency crew toured WattaHamesa village and interviewed a number of residents, who confirmed that the practice is now a thing of the past in village.
Villagers said they had realized that the practice was pulling them down in development, noting that the ‘cut’ also led to early marriage and discrimination against the girl child.
“Our daughters now go to school without any hindrance unlike in the past when they used to be withdrawn from school to undergo the cut and get married at tender ages,” Hajibo says.
Hamida Guyo, 23, says she ran away from home to escape the rite in order to focus on her education. Unfortunately, she was forced to discontinue her educational pursuit due to lack of fees.
“I am now a married woman with two children but my husband has not discriminated against me because I am not circumcised,” she says.
She says initially she faced ridicule for running away from a cultural practice that was so entrenched in the community, but that stigma is no more as villagers have realized a woman can lead a normal life even when she is not ‘circumcised.’
She has now become an anti-FGM crusader together with Ms Hussein through the United Green Movement for which Ms Hussein is an ambassador against the practice.
“I call upon our girls and women to shun the cut,” she says and urged the government to put more emphasis on education so that girls do not drop out of school.
FatumaKitole, the chairperson of the Watta community in Hola Town, says FGM has led to many girls dropping out of school.
“FGM causes girls not to go to school. It is also responsible for early marriages. When a girl is circumcised, she feels
she has been prepared for marriage and therefore stops concentrating in class,” she says.
She says contrary to popular belief among pastoralist Muslims, the practice is not a religious obligation (Sunnah) as it is not found in any religious book.
Kitole says the cut does not instil discipline among women as thought, adding that discipline can only be achieved through good religious teachings.
“FGM does more harm than good to women. Apart from invading their privacy, the cut also exposes them to complications during childbirth,” she says. “Girls who have undergone FGM are unable to enjoy their first night in marriage due to the pain they go through.”
She confirms that in the village, young girls up to standard eight have not undergone FGM since Hajibo ‘saw the light’ and abandoned her trade.
Kitole said she has asked the national and county governments to honour Hajibo and provide her with funds to enable her reach the Watta in other areas with the “gospel.”
12-year old Mariam Gayoye says she is happy she has not been forced to undergo FGM and promises to continue with her studies.
Her only plea is for the national and county governments to provide school fees and sanitary pads to girls from poor
backgrounds to continue with their studies.
Ali Komoro, a young man in his 30s, says he is married to a woman who did not go through the ritual and they are happily married.
“They used to say that girls who are not circumcised were an abomination to our culture, but we, the young people, have decided to marry them despite being uncircumcised, We are living with them without any problem and we urge other communities still practicing FGM to stop because it is meaningless.”he says.
He says it is not necessary for women to be circumcised for them to satisfactorily fulfill their marital obligations to
their husbands. Village Headman Ali Fuham concurs with Komoro. He wants the government to institute stringent measures to completely eradicate the dehumanizing rite of passage.
Ms. Hussein, a former nominated Member of County Assembly and the founder of Dayaa Women Group, wants the government to honour Hajibo as a heroine and facilitate the former female circumciser to conduct advocacy campaigns among the Watta.
According to her, FGM is a form of terrorism against women and the government should use all means to eradicate it completely among all communities.
By Emmanuel Masha