Kenyan schools entrepreneur and international women’s rights advocate, Dr Kakenya Ntaiya, made an extraordinary bargain at the age of just seven.
The Masai schoolgirl was so determined to continue her education that she made a deal with her father that she would undergo female genital mutilation in exchange for finishing her education.
“I wanted to continue with school because my mother was denied an education and she always told us if she went to school she would have been a different person, so I talked to my dad and told him I can only go through the genital mutilation if he lets me go back to school,” she told The World Today.
Dr Ntaiya said it was routine for 12-year-old girls in her village to be married, and that she knew of some as young as nine still being forced to marry.
She said many would die or become permanently disabled after bearing children at such a young age.
“Imagine a 12 year old getting married. That is the time that they’re supposed to be in school. That’s the time they’re supposed to dream big, but you’re told ‘here is a husband, go and have children’,” she said.
Dr Ntaiya, who is in Sydney this week as the keynote speaker at Australia’s National Leadership in Schools Conference, also saw her father abuse and beat her mother — a life she refused to accept.
She said her father only agreed to her deal because he did not expect her to recover from the procedure right away and possibly not at all.
But while the girls undergoing the genital cutting were meant to heal without medical help, her mother made sure she had proper nursing.
“We were healed within a month and he was quite shocked. He didn’t have a say. He had to keep his promise and I went to school,” Dr Ntaiya said.
Engaged as long as she can remember
Dr Ntaiya’s plan was to escape the life of child marriage. She said she had been engaged for as long as she could remember.
“Because when I was young, [about five], I was always told that my husband just passed by,” she said.
Parents in her Maasai community married their girls off young in exchange for cows, which they saw as invaluable.