Meet Monica, an End FGM/C Champion in Tanzania.
“I am Monica, a happily married woman and a mother of three. I am a proud Maasai from Kilindi, Tanzania. Our tribe is rich in amazing cultures that have been preserved for many centuries, like respect we have for our elders, our colourful beads and clothes, our language and even the natural beauty that God granted us. However one thing troubles me: the practice of female genital mutilation/cutting ( FGM/C). This, among other challanges our commuity faces, made me study social work at university.
It’s my passion to improve the health and wellbeing of the community by empowering girls and young women. I want to see them at a higher level and not the level they are in right now. I feel like they need to be educated in order to be more independent and confident in themselves.”
Why did you start working as an end FGM/C champion?
“In my community the practice of FGM/C has been very common. The practice comes along side many other challenges in the lives of girls and women. As they get cut, most of them drop out of school and are then married at a very young age. The cut [FGM/C] justifies the marriage no matter at what age the girl is. Often, the girls become pregnant and some of them die while giving birth. This has been so heartbreaking as in my view the cut is not necessary. While I took a decision to speak about this with people in my community, I noticed the hesitation in their eyes. That’s when I decided that I wanted to change the state of affairs in the community. I started to raise my voice in order to raise awareness and break the taboo.
The road I took wasn’t always easy. I noticed that the community rejected my talks at first. You see, in Tanzania, when you challenge someone’s culture you are touching the heart of the community. It is in our culture that lies our uniqueness and our pride, so stopping the practice that has been in the community for many years is something not easily acceptable. The people were talking behind my back. They said that I lost my mind and my culture because I went to university and they tried to scare the girls by saying this would happen to them if they follow my path.
But I never gave up.
I knew I had to start with the elderly leaders. They are very influential in the Maasai community and I knew I had to convince them first. I told them stories about FGM/C and why it is bad for women. I even showed them a video because they didn’t know anything about the practice. I showed them results of other communities in Tanzania who don’t perform the cut. Those villages have female nurses, teachers, doctors all because they let their girls go to school and go to university so they can become the women of their dreams. I told them that our girls are staying behind and that they are being left behind.
Changing a tradition within a culture is not something which happens in one day. It took many years for them to understand what I was saying. And that’s where I met Amref Health Africa and became an end FGM/C champion.”
Can you describe your work as a champion?
“I started working with Amref Health Africa in Tanzania six years ago. They noticed that I was successfully speaking to the elders about ending FGM/C. They helped and trained me to become a champion and to also reach the most remote villages in my country.
Because of Amref Health Africa, I could achieve more. The community trusted them already because of a project where they provide safe and clean drinking water first and then start the talks about sensitive topics. Now, six years down the road, I have become very successful in my educative talks with every person in the community. From elders, to leaders, to girls and boys. And I can really see the change is happening”.
How did COVID-19 affect your area?
“At the beginning of COVID-19, I wasn’t able to reach all the girls. We couldn’t organize meetings, everybody was staying at home and schools were closed. I heard that many girls went through the cut. This really frustrated me because I don’t want to see the girls suffering. I remember that I was phoning village elders so they could inform their people about the rights of girls. Many of them promised me to keep a close eye on the girls. I could visit one village at a time for door-to-door education and I gave my number to all the households so they could reach me all day and all night if they were facing any problems. I wanted to see with my own eyes if the girls were healthy and when I suspected a girl was at risk I called the local community health worker or village chief. I also received many calls from girls who were scared that they were going to be subjected to FGM/C. Amref decided to step in and helped me by organizing a radio show. I was able to reach thousands of people and villages in the remote areas.
Luckily for us, the lockdown didn’t take long. In most places we were back on track after a month or three and also schools re-opened again.”
What inspires you?
“Other champions motivate me. They are so inspiring. They have done so much. Especially a Kenyan Maasai woman named Nice Nailantei Leng’ete who is a true definition of a role model. She has come far and has accomplished a lot. She always inspires me to do more, give more and to never give up.”
What is your ambition?
“I dream of a world without any pain and no more FGM/C. I wish to see girls in Tanzania grow up to be teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers, pilots. They can become everything they want. Not just being married off as young as 15 years.”
What is your message for girls all around the world?
“Let’s raise our voice for education You, as a girl, have the right to education. And nobody has the right to cut you. Do not be afraid. Stand up for your rights.”