Transformation of female circumcision among the Kipsigis of Bomet County: Kenya; 1945-2014
Werunga, Damaris Simuli
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Female Circumcision (FC) has been an issue of debate globally in the recent past, with intense campaigns against the practice. A practice that was initially carried out in many communities in the world, started facing hostility from the legal and human rights activists as a violation of human rights. Nevertheless, this practice has persisted even after the ban globally in states such as New Zealand, and most African nations including Kenya. Owing to the prohibition of the practice of female circumcision, other communities have come up with alternative rites of passage, educational programs that comprise of the girls being secluded and given specific instructions instead of the cut. Female Circumcision has undergone significant changes regarding rituals, the practice itself and the significance of the act among the Kipsigis. These changes have come along with educational, religious and activists programs. The study was necessitated by the controversies surrounding FC between the fight against the practice and the conservatives who advocate for upholding the practice as part of their culture thus the need to preserve it. This study focused on the transformation in Female Circumcision among the Kipsigis of Bomet County in the period 1945-2014. It began by interrogating the significance of Female Circumcision among the Kipsigis community. Secondly, the study sought to examine the impact of Christianity on FC among Kipsigis and thirdly, it investigated the changes and continuities of Female Circumcision practice among the Kipsigis since independence to 2014, given the intense campaign against Female Circumcision and the introduction of the new Kenyan constitution that has been more elaborate against the practice. Functionalism Theory guided the study. Both primary and secondary data were used in the study. Descriptive research design was applied in the study; both qualitative and quantitative approaches were used. However, a qualitative approach was the primary approach. Purposive and snowballing sampling techniques were used in selecting the research participants. The findings indicated that female circumcision played a key role as a mark of transition from childhood to womanhood among the Kipsigis. The ceremonies and teachings that accompanied it were imperative in the construction of a woman and preparing her for wifely roles. Additionally, it was noted that the missionary penetration in Rift Valley impacted on FC among the Kipsigis. Christianity termed FC as barbaric and primitive practice thus, to be done away with. However, despite such campaigns against FC, it still continued in a less intense manner. The findings also indicated that after independence, FC was declared illegal in Kenya and new forms of the practice emerged. The places, circumcisers, tools, and rituals that are used in the entire exercise changed over time. Accordingly, if the war against FC continues the practice is likely to be extinct in the near future. The study is significant because it enriches the historiography of gender studies as well as act as an impetus to studying Female Circumcision among other communities. The study results are helpful as far as Female Circumcision-related policy formulation and implementation are concerned.