March 14, 2014
Woman combats female mutilationby Kathy Aney
Sometimes, tradition trumps reason.
That's how Rachael Tengbom sees the practice of female circumcision performed on young girls in her native Kenya. Tengbom, now a Kennewick, Wash., counselor, spoke to an audience at Blue Mountain Community College on Wednesday.
Tengbom, part of the Maasai culture, said only about two percent of girls escape circumcision in her tribe. Though the practice is illegal, the law is widely ignored.
"You can't be a woman without female genital mutilation," she said. "You go through this between 8 and 14. They don't use pain pills -- you have to face the knife like a woman."
Tengbom cited the World Health Organization, which reported that the ritual offers zero health benefits and causes disfigurement and other lasting problems.
"When you ask the Maasai why they put their daughters through this ritual, they say it's part of us," she said.
... The surgery is done en masse, she said, and usually with the same knife. Not surprisingly, the spread of AIDS is a common byproduct.
Girls don't receive much education and are expected to marry young. Circumcision is part of preparing for marriage, which is typically arranged and accompanied by a dowry of cattle. ...
Tengbom said the tradition is slowly changing through the efforts of multiple organizations, including her own, Voices of Hope. The group offers a safe house and funds education for Kenyan girls.