Kakenya Ntaiya: Early Marriage and female Circumcision Ambassador

Girls in patched black and red overalls dance down a narrow lane in the light of dawn. They sing. They worship. They praise. They’re entering their adult lives through a ceremony designed to buck a tradition that has injured so many of their ancestors. They have been made to believe that this makes them real women.

FGM, alongside early marriage was outlawed in Kenya in 2011 but this practice is still deeply ingrained in cultural traditions of some communities.

This barbaric act has resulted in birth complications and the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections through the use of crude and unsterilized equipment during group rituals. In some instances, heavy bleeding has led to the death of young girls.

kakenya

Meet Dr Kakenya Ntaiya, a Kenyan schools entrepreneur and international women’s rights advocate, who believes that this act denies children as young as nine years the opportunity to have an education and take charge of their lives.

Dr Kakenya Ntaiya has set up a school for girls in Kenya and a foundation to draw attention to the dangers of child marriage and female circumcision.

Parents in her Maasai community married their girls off young in exchange for cows, which they saw as invaluable and this would be used then educate the boys.

She makes a deal with her father

Ntaiya was so determined to continue her education that she made a deal with her father that she would undergo female genital mutilation in exchange for finishing her education.
She said her father only agreed to her deal because he did not expect her to recover from the procedure right away and possibly not at all.

She couldn’t imagine getting married at 12 years of age because she believed that was the age when children were supposed to be in school planning their future.

She wanted to continue with school because her mother had been denied the opportunity to an education and she always believed she would have been better if she had gone to school.

She saw many young children as young as nine years of age go through the act and many would die or become permanently disabled after bearing children at such a young age.

Before even understanding what the act involved, she still went through it… “It’s horrible, you are cut, your genitalia is cut, no anesthesia, you bleed and some people die out of it”, she said. This was meant to make her a woman according to the community.

But while the girls undergoing the genital cutting were meant to heal without medical help, her mother made sure she had proper nursing and healed within a month.

She graduates with a PhD

After she graduated, Dr Ntaiya was accepted at a Kenyan teacher’s college and a university in the United States.

She went on to gain a doctorate in education from the US and it’s after she graduated that she set up a school for girls in Kenya and a foundation to draw attention to the dangers of child marriage and female genital mutilation.

Her school which now has more than 250 girls ensures that none of girls will ever be mutilated or married until they finish high school or beyond and until they are mature enough.

“Over the last two years we have sent 55 girls to the best national schools, secondary schools in the country. I know that at least 75 per cent of them will make it to a good university,” she said.

Of course such a noble course will face resistance, and it sure did. She had to deal with resistance from those who wanted to maintain these barbaric traditions.

She has always focused on the positives and believes that many men had learned and were going to learn the benefits of educating girls through their daughter’s attendance at her school.

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