“The cultural elders are like a small Parliament in my village,” she said. “They have not gone to school, but they have so much power. All the decisions come from them.”
Traditionally, women aren’t allowed to address elders. Ms. Leng’ete realized she had a chance to counter tradition after the elders sent her to a workshop on adolescent and sexual health run by Amref, a Kenyan health organization.
She told the elders that she had a duty to share what she had learned with the whole village. It was her first bargaining chip, and it — almost — worked. They gave her permission to address the younger men, but none of them stayed to listen to her.
“No girl had been courageous enough before to challenge the status quo, to challenge men,” Douglas Meritei, one of those men, remembered.
She kept trying, for two more years. She made such a nuisance of herself that the old men told the younger ones to sit with her. But only three would talk with her.
Ms. Leng’ete refused to be discouraged. “I thought, ‘Well, last time I had zero, this time it’s three, that’s not so bad,’ ” she said.
Gradually, more of the younger men came to talk with her, she said, and gradually the topics expanded — from H.I.V. prevention to teenage pregnancy and its health complications, to early marriage, to school attrition and, finally, to the cut.