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An Update on Alternative Rite of Passage from Margaret Ikiara, ED of CIFORD Kenya

Procession of girls and their parents after graduating from CIFORD's Alternative Rite of Passage program. Together, they chant, "Say NO to FGM."

Community Initiatives for Rural Development (CIFORD Kenya) is a SIA grant partner that serves Meru County. The organization has many programs that impact the lives of women, men, and youth, including food security initiatives, environmental conservation, youth mentorship, and vocational training. Earlier this month, we received an update on one important program that SIA helps support, the Girls Alternative Rite of Passage. Below, Margaret Ikiara, Executive Director for CIFORD, describes why this program hugely impacts Meru County, known in Kenya as a hotspot for female genital mutilation (FGM).

FGM has been established as a cultural rite of passage that moves girls from adolescence into adulthood. Though the practice has been outlawed in Kenya, many families continue practicing FGM secretly because of their personal experiences and history. CIFORD has seen the many negative impacts FGM has on girls, including trauma, excessive bleeding, death, school absences, and earlier engagement in sexual activity, often resulting in teen pregnancies.

To combat this human rights violation, CIFORD has developed their Alternative Rite of Passage program for girls between 11 and 16 years old. The program was attended by 203 girls and included six days full of curriculum on topics such as the history, myths and facts of FGM, reproductive health, sexuality, early marriage, drug and substance abuse, stress management, and career development. Students were kept safe at the center during the time of year when the FGM ritual often happens and were visiting and working with the trained program staff. Participants also received menstrual packs that included pads, underwear, and bras.

Girls participating in educational seminars as part of CIFORD Kenya's Alternative Rite to Passage Program.

A group of girls graduating from Alternative Rite of Passage pose with Kanana, a staff person for CIFORD.

To round up the week of learning, the girls are celebrated with a graduation ceremony attended by community leaders and parents. Students provided entertainment with dance and song performances and dramatic skits and shared speeches about the importance of girls' education and the dangers of FGM. Empowering girls with this knowledge also helps them to begin conversations about these issues at home with their family and friends.

While there are many challenges CIFORD faces in their program operations, such as their vast coverage area, difficulty with transportation, and impacts of COVID and drought, Margaret sees that there is growing support for this work from both women and men. She hopes to convene even more people in 2023.

Spirit in Action is proud to support CIFORD Kenya again this year with a grant that will help the organization to expand its reach and offer additional educational seminars on sexual and reproductive health for girls and gender equality training targeted to school boys and young men. By bringing more folks to the table, CIFORD hopes to end the inhumane practice of FGM. And thanks to you, SIA can be a small part of creating brighter, more hopeful futures for girls in Kenya.

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