It is rare to attend a lecture where you are both inspired and shocked by the words that you hear.
But this is what happened to me at the recent NCGS conference where I heard Dr Kakenya Ntaiya speak about her experiences of growing up in a Masai village in Kenya. She told her story, simply but honestly. I was humbled by what she has done and inspired to do all I can to support her cause.
At the age of five Dr Ntalya was engaged to be married. She was prepared to be a wife from the age of eight. At the age of 13 she was prepared in all sense of the word to become a woman. In her village it was a rite of passage, one she had witnessed many times. A celebration where her clitoris was cut – we call it female genital mutilation. As a Masai woman she was not allowed to cry, to show pain and the wound had to be allowed to heal naturally. A wound that many women die from because infection takes hold.
After this experience women were expected to take on their husbands. Dr Ntalya was different. She had seen her mother regularly beaten by her father who returned home once every two years, to establish his authority over his wife. Dr Ntalya did not want this life. She had had some education and wanted to be a teacher. She was fortunate to be offered a scholarship to study in the USA. One cannot underestimate the power of this woman in rationalising with the elders in the village to be the first woman to be allowed to be educated in another country.
She arrived in USA and attended lectures at NYCS. She had never seen snow or heard of many of the foodstuffs Americans eat, but what threw her the most was the lecture where they described what happened to African women – she saw it as a rite of passage, in America they described it as mutilation, a theft of fundamental human rights, an illegal act. Three million women every year cut in this way. She wanted it to stop in her village.
She returned to Kenya and spoke to the mothers to send their daughters to her school. A boarding school – not a day school – because she knew that girls walking to school every day would be in danger of being raped and their mothers blamed. By setting up a boarding school, she could protect the girls and give them an education. She believes in changing lives, one girl, one school, one village, one country can lead to momentous change.
She’s an extraordinary human being. And whose cause of women’s education I will do all I can to support.