At age 9, Nice Nailantei Leng’ete ran away from home so she wouldn’t have her genitalia cut as part of a coming-of-age ceremony.
For her defiance, she was shunned by family and community.
That was 16 years ago. The ritual cutting away of part or all of the external female genitalia continues in force around the world. A new UNICEF report estimates that at least 200 million women alive today have undergone what’s known as female genital mutilation (FGM).
But now there’s a concerted effort to convince communities that Nice Nailantei Leng’ete was right — and that there’s a way to mark a girl’s maturity without cutting. On Feb. 7, International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, Ban Ki-moon, chief of the United Nations, called for “a better way” than the ritual cutting away of part or all of the external female genitalia. The U.N. has described the practice as “violent” and a violation of the rights of girls and women.