THE BLOG

The Woman With the 'Wooden Vagina'

10/03/2015 17:35 GMT | Updated 10/05/2015 10:59 BST

When I began my work, I had the female torso carved out to illustrate the physical effects of female genital mutilation (FGM). I was called the woman with the 'wooden vagina'. I still use it to demonstrate the different types of FGM and what happens when a woman gives birth.

Much as it often horrified my audience who consider anything to do with a woman's genitalia a taboo topic, it came in handy and often helps drive the point across on the harm that FGM causes women and girls, particularly for parents who do not want their children to go through this horrific mutilation.

Having undergone FGM myself as a girl, I pledged that my life's mission would be to make sure it does not happen to other Kenyan girls. In 1999, I founded the 'Tasaru Ntomonok Initiative' (TNI) to protect girls who were running away from FGM and early marriage. 'Tasaru' means "rescue" in the Maa language. In order to provide a sustainable solution, the centre started carrying out awareness-raising workshops for the communities in Narok County.

The Maasai community is strongly attached to its traditional practices. This is part of the reason why abandoning FGM has been a slow and laborious process. Some of the most successful methods include the higher enrollment of girls into schools, which means they are saved from FGM and early marriage, and involving the community through awareness-raising. Another important method has been using the law.

Certain regions now understand that FGM is illegal in Kenya. Teaching girls to fight for their own rights has also proved successful because the girls become the role models within their communities. Men have become more involved in the campaign too. They have sometimes been able to protect their daughters and sisters, ensure that they stay in school, while young men are beginning to understand their role as future spouses, when they do not insist that their wives have been subjected to FGM.

Since its foundation, Tasaru has held 27 alternative rights of passage ceremonies. Similar ceremonies are carried out in other parts of the country to coincide with the cutting season, which often means April, August and December. The ceremonies are a public declaration of the decision taken not only by the graduates, but also by their guardians to keep them away from FGM, early marriage and other forms of abuse that they could face during adolescence, when they are particularly vulnerable.

Reconciliation ceremonies are a way of ensuring that the girls are not only ambassadors of the work that we're doing, but that they do not lose touch with their families after running away.

We initially had negative experiences with girls being subjected to FGM when they were taken back to their families, but such incidences have reduced in recent times. Parents are now required to sign an agreement that they will not cut their girls or marry them off.

The changing attitudes have to do with FGM now being considered a form of gender based violence and a violation of human rights. Although it is not automatically understood this way in certain parts of the country where FGM is still deeply entrenched in culture, we see more people understand the concept that even young girls have rights. This has changed the dynamics and placed our campaign within a wider context of different attitudes towards how women and girls are valued.

It has been a privilege to partner with Equality Now for many years now, with funding from Comic Relief, as part of the movement to end FGM. During our time working together, we have seen the lives of countless young women and girls transformed. More and more, girls are coming to understand their rights too. This is something which will benefit not only the Maasai region, but all of Kenya.

There is nothing to be feared from empowered girls and women. There are only benefits to be had from a better-educated and dynamic female population, which wants to fully contribute in all parts of Kenyan society.

Watch Agnes Pareyio in 'Stop Cutting Our Girls: A Comic Relief Special' tonight at 10pm on BBC Three