S.A.F.E. is a Kenyan non-governmental organisation and UK charity that uses performing arts and community programmes to inspire and deliver social change. A donation from ICAP Charity Day 2010 went towards SAFE Maa, a team of Maasai performers in the south west of Kenya, who used performance, outreach work and training to sensitively challenge the ancient Maasai tradition of female genital cutting (FGC). This is the first time an organisation addressed the issue of female genital cutting in the Loita District. ICAP’s donation has had an enormous impact, facilitating S.A.F.E to engage with and help this remote community of 40,000 Maasai.
With Funding from ICAP Charity Day SAFE Maa were able to perform traditional Maasai songs and stories amended to include information about female genital cutting. These community performances were designed to provoke discussion and transfer education about the dangers of traditional female genital cutting, and the desirability of finding an alternative. Many of the team were young Maasai leaders who will shape the future of their community. With ICAP's donation, S.A.F.E have conducted two tours in 15 villages and managed numerous outreach programmes that influenced a huge portion of the Loita region with six outreach officers holding afternoon training and discussion sessions. These sessions were divided into two groups - one for women of all ages and one youth group for young men. The team have now reached between 3,840 and 7,680 women and 1,920 and 5,760 men annually.
After one show, a community elder, a pastor, took the microphone to credit S.A.F.E.'s work and say that they were telling the truth and it is time to talk about female genital cutting.
Traditional female genital cutting involves women's clitoris' being removed and then cut to the bone, resulting in months of agony, a great deal of blood loss, as well as emotional and physical trauma. Although female genital cutting is illegal in Kenya, FGC is a complex issue because of the benefits girls experience when they are cut. A Maasai girl cannot graduate to womanhood without being cut and the blood from the clitoris being 'cleaned' - and without this graduation she is unlikely to marry, have children or be given help during childbirth. Maasai culture is conservative and a girl is likely to be ostracised by her community if she breaks with this tradition. Furthermore, there is also a belief a husband will die if he marries an uncut woman - because the value of a girl to a family is only as a bride, an important factor when changing tradition is to transform male attitudes in the community so they are willing to marry uncut girls.
Funding from ICAP has had an enormous impact and enabled a remote community to take the first steps in changing their own lives for the better.
Acknowledging the realities of life for uncut women, a programme of sensitisation was designed that involved working with schools, community and women’s groups and - most importantly - the traditional members of the community that support female genital cutting. The team developed an alternative rite of passage that keeps the same traditional ceremonial features, enabling women to graduate to womanhood without being cut. The SAFE Maa team are now regularly reporting cases across the Loita region they have witnessed of girls graduating successfully to womenhood without being cut.
From a starting female genital cutting rate of 100%, S.A.F.E. has now achieved 20% of girls being spared the cut in just two years of programme delivery.
ICAP’s contribution also enabled SAFE Maa to deliver workshops lasting for approximately three - five days covering the cultural issues surrounding female genital cutting, an explanation of the alternative rite of passage and its advantages plus discussion on how girls can be considered clean even if they have not been cut.
It is hard to measure the impact of this work as it is an extremely private issue with great social and cultural heritage and stigma attached. The fact SAFE Maa are now able to talk about and perform on the issue publicly is testament to the tremendous impact of ICAP’s donation. When the project was in its planning stages, community elders said that it would be a generation before the subject of female genital cutting could be discussed publicly. What was three years ago a taboo subject has now been accepted as an issue for discussion and change. This is largely due to the fact that the SAFE Maa team has, as part of the community, been given permission by the members of the Maasai population and elders to sensitively broach the subject. ICAP’s donation has a lasting legacy because the model has the power to change minds as it challenges the status quo from within the community.