This #InternationalWomensDay we celebrate Nice Nailantei Leng'ete. She has thro' sheer audacity challenged tradition, thus giving >15,000 girls in Africa a chance to live their dreams. She is leading a global campaign to end FGM. #IWD201 #EndFGM #PressforProgress #WomensDay pic.twitter.com/7oWNagbUNp— Dr Meshack Ndirangu (@meshackn) March 8, 2018
A Kenyan woman who escaped female genital mutilation (FGM) at the age of 8 made her life mission to help other girls do the same.
Nice Nailantei Leng’ete, 27, said that when she was a child, both she and her sister hid in a tree until the archaic mutilation ceremony was over. So far, she said, she’s helped 15,000 other girls escape the practice.
Leng'ete grew up in the Maasai community, a male-dominated people that inhabit southern Kenya and northern Tanzania.
Because of her dedication, she has recently been named one of Time’s Most Influential People, and we can all agree she deserves the title.
Congratulations to Nice Nailantei Leng’ete, the only Kenyan in the TIME's 100 most influential people 2018, in recognition of her efforts against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). pic.twitter.com/zQk9qUYXBC— Kenyans.co.ke (@Kenyans) April 20, 2018
But the practice, known in Kenya as “female cutting,” is not the only activity Leng’ete is fighting against. She’s also trying to bring child marriage to an end as well. She wants FGM and child marriage eradicated in Africa by 2030.
“FGM, for Maasai, is a rite of passage from girlhood to womanhood. Women are not considered women unless they have gone through FGM,” she explained.
So instead of mutilation, she’s trying to introduce a different approach by getting rid of negative rites of passage and keeping only what's good.
“FGM in my community connects to girls ending their education, with child marriage, and with teenage pregnancies. A girl is 10 or 12 years old when she undergoes FGM. Then she’s told she’s a woman, and that means she’s ready for marriage, and that means she has children. They all go together,” she said.
As a child, she saw other girls suffering while going through with the female circumcisions and noticed how that was the beginning of the end for a girl with big dreams to make something of herself.
“I saw pain. I saw death. Since I was 7 years old, I used to attend these ceremonies in my community with girls undergoing FGM. I saw my friends leave school and get married. And I wanted to continue my education,” she said.
After becoming the first girl in her village to go to high school, Leng’ete would wear her school uniform, inspiring other girls in the village. In no time, they were asking her for help to escape FMG.
At first, the advocate helped girls by hiding them, but over time, this made the entire community turn against her. That’s when she had a different idea.
She got permission from the village leaders to teach locals about sexual health and wellness. Four years later, the elders finally agreed that Maasai could be better if girls and women were allowed to continue with their education and push marriage for later. In 2014, Maasai elders finally renounced FGM.
“I’m driven by passion,” Leng’ete said. “Being able to protect these younger girls from these harmful practices is what I want to do; it’s an important job. When I see the girls in school, that’s my happiness. I’m hoping to reach many more — every girl — if I’m able.”
Working with the health advocacy group Amref Health Africa, Leng’ete now continues to teach young men and women about sexual and reproductive health and rights. Hopefully, the recognition she’s obtained for her work will validate that she’s on the right track and push her to keep fighting for young girls and women all across Africa.