Amref Health Africa's Global End-FGM/C Ambassador, Nice Nailantei Leng'ete, is not just a leader of the future: at just 30 years old, she's already changing the lives of girls and young women across the continent, and inspiring a generation to chase their own dreams.
Nice was only eight years old when she ran away from her home in the village of Noomayianat, Kenya, to avoid being subjected to FGM/C. The practice is standard in Maasai communities like hers: it is seen as a way of marking the transition from girlhood to adulthood and preparing girls for the next phase of their lives.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines FGM/C as "all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons". In many communities, like Nice's, the practice of FGM/C is directly linked to child marriage, early pregnancy, and a lack of education for girls.
Nice endured beatings and social stigma, but still refused to undergo the procedure. She eventually convinced her grandfather, a Maasai elder, to allow her to escape 'the cut' and continue her schooling. Through him, the rest of the elders were persuaded, too: and the village of Noomayianat made the decision to abandon the practice altogether.
Now 30, Nice works with Amref Health Africa Kenya, supporting communities like hers to transition away from FGM/C. Thanks to Nice and advocates like her, more than 20,000 Maasai girls in Kenya and Tanzania have been able to continue their schooling, deciding for themselves if and when to marry and start a family.
Today, Nice combines her work with communities with her role as an advocate and ambassador on the global stage. A typical day for her can involve meeting with community elders, talking to girls about sexual and reproductive health, addressing 2,500 delegates at a global conference for obstetricians and gynaecologists, or dining with Amal and George Clooney.
From activist to author
In September 2021, Nice published her first book, 'The Girls in the Wild Fig Tree: How I fought to save myself, my sister, and thousands of girls worldwide' - described by The New York Times as an "elegant and inspiring memoir". The launch of the book was closely followed - on 16th October, the International Day of the Girl - by the opening of A Nice Place, a safe house and leadership academy founded by Nice for girls at risk of FGM/C in her home county of Kajiado.
Speaking at the People's Postcode Lottery Charity Gala - where she received a Postcode Hero Award - in 2019, Nice said: "FGM/C is not an African issue, it's not a Kenyan issue, it's a global issue. Our vision is to bring FGM/C to an end by 2030 and my hope is to see every girl becoming the woman of her dreams."
Along with her accolade from People's Postcode Lottery, Nice was one of TIME magazine’s most influential people of 2018, and is a recipient of the 2016 Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.
I loved my family. I loved my people. But this, I thought, was wrong. Tradition can be good. Tradition can be beautiful. But some traditions deserve to die.
Change does not mean giving up what is good in ourselves. It means keeping what is best while accepting the need to grow.
Nice in the news
Find out more about the amazing activist we are proud to call a colleague:
- Feminist Leadership in Practice: Nice shares her expertise at a webinar hosted by Women in Dev, October 2021
- This Kenyan Activist Said No to ‘the Cut’: The New York Times' Sonia Faleiro reviews 'The Girls in the Wild Fig Tree', September 2021
- "You Cannot Use Force to Change Minds": Reasons to be Cheerful, October 2020
- Forgotten Women: How one Kenyan woman escaped FGM and saved thousands more girls from the cut, The Independent, January 2019
- Meet the remarkable woman who escaped genital mutilation as a girl - and is now saving thousands of youngsters, iNews, May 2018
- TIME 100: Nice Nailantei Leng'ete, TIME, April 2018
- She Ran From the Cut, and Helped Thousands of Other Girls Escape, Too, The New York Times, January 2018
- Changing traditions: Hear Nice speak at TEDxAmsterdam, December 2012