Safe Haven Opens in Kenya for Young Women Fleeing Circumcision, Forced Marriage
April 12, 2002
Eve Ensler, author of "Vagina Monologues," the widely produced play about women and their bodies, formally opened the V-Day Safe House for Girls in Kenya on Monday. Most of the 61 girls who arrived at the Safe House came for a short course on the consequences of female circumcision, but 14 of them have sought refuge in the haven from female circumcision and forced marriage -- two cultural traditions that some women in the Masaai tribe are working to change.
The project was launched by Agnes Pareyio, 45, a Masaai woman who began visiting villages throughout southwestern Kenya a decade ago to educate women about the dangers of female circumcision. "When the girls get circumcised, they are considered women, they can't go to school anymore," she said. . . . If they get married, they must stay home and take care of their husbands."
Ensler met Pareyio on a trip to Kenya two years ago and said it was clear Pareyio's "pure will was changing this culture . . . freeing women." Ensler began financing Pareyio's campaign, first buying her a vehicle so she could visit more villages, then providing $65,000 for the safe haven -- two cinderblock buildings with rooms for the girls, offices and a cafeteria. Another safe haven is in the works.
An estimated 130 million women, most of them in Africa, have been subjected to ritual genital cutting, and the number is believed to grow by up to 2 million each year. The procedure ranges from clipping or burning the clitoris to cutting off all the outer labia and sewing the remaining tissue, leaving only a tiny opening. The practice is illegal in 18 countries, nine in Africa. It was outlawed in Kenya earlier this year but is still widespread. Although figures are not available on the number of Kenyan Masaai women circumcised each year, Pareyio says she has seen attitudes begin to change among the tribe. Some women bleed to death during the procedure; others contract HIV from unclean razor blades used during it.
04.09.02; Matthew J. Rosenberg
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.