Photos by Paula Allen for V-Day
Twenty years ago, the V-Day Safe House for the Girls opened in the Southern Rift Valley in Narok, Kenya.
Founded and led by Agnes Pareyio and the Tasaru Ntomonok Initiative, the safe house provides shelter and education for girls running away from female genital mutilation (FGM) and early childhood marriage. It is a place where young women can safely celebrate an alternative “rite of passage” so that Masai women can follow their tradition without undergoing the cut.
Agnes and her team bravely confront the cultural practice of FGM in the Maasai community have won many hard-earned victories, influencing community members to take on alternative rituals to preserve their culture, and educating women and men alike about the power of an educated girl.
Each year, hundreds of girls’ lives – and that of their families – are transformed because of their work and vision.
Agnes began her efforts to end FGM by walking from village to village in the Rift valley in 2000, educating families about the dangers of the practice. She met V (formerly Eve Ensler) in 1999. V, in an interview with Mother Jones in 2004, recalled their early connection, “She had been genitally mutilated as a child, and had made a decision to stop it. She had devoted her life for years to walking from village to village on foot, educating boys and girls and mothers and fathers about the dangers of FGM [female genital mutilation]. In those years, she stopped 1,500 girls from being cut. When we met her, we said, “What can we do for you?” She said, “Well, I could use a Jeep.” We got her a Jeep. Forty-five hundred girls. Then we got her money, and she opened the first safe house in Africa.”
Today, Agnes is an internationally recognized leader, the Chair of the Anti-FGM Board of Kenya, a UN Person of the Year for Kenya laureate and is running for Parliament. Her grassroots work with families, young girls, cultural leaders, and politicians in Kenya is actively reducing the rates of girls who undergo the cut. As a survivor of FGM, Agnes has dedicated her life providing safe alternative rites of passage into womanhood for Kenyan girls.
“V-Day helped me to set up a safe-house for girls and young women who refuse to be mutilated 20 years ago. When I began this work, some people reacted with fury and there were times I was afraid for my safety. Not long ago, I got a call from a woman who told me of a young girl who wanted to resist cutting, but was being forced by her parents. By the time I arrived, she had been buried in a shallow grave after bleeding to death. I made sure the police investigated and her father is now serving nine years in prison for manslaughter – but I know we need to do more.
When women stand up and defend themselves, it works. No woman is free until all women are free. I am one part of a global struggle – one that unites the one billion women across the planet who have been beaten or raped or mutilated. I invite you to join us.” – Agnes Pareyio
Today we celebrate all of the girls who have journeyed to and through the Safe House, we celebrate Agnes and her vision, strength, and leadership – and that of the entire Safe House team.
To learn more about the V-Day Safe House for the Girls/the Tasaru Ntomonok Initiative, Agnes Pareyio and to support this work, visit:
Additional reading: Agnes telling her story: “Living in a woman’s body: I was mutilated – and I swore I would stop this happening to another girl” (The Guardian, 10 February 2022), the community and the Safe House during the Covid crisis: SOLIDARITY RISING Series: “Leading Community Support During Covid-19 Crisis At The V-Day Safe House For The Girls In Narok, Kenya” by Agnes Pareyio (20 May 2020), and one of the very first news articles about the Safe House: “Changing Tribal Traditions” (Washington Post, 21 April 2002).
#TasaruNtomonokInitiative / #VDaySafeHouseForTheGirls