An American Missionary Was Wrongly Accused Of Voluntarily Undergoing FGM

Updated: Aug 8, 2019

An American Christian missionary in Kenya has demanded an apology after local media wrongly reported she had voluntarily undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) as part of a traditional wedding.

Teresa June Estes, 60, and Tony Estes, 53, were married in a traditional Pokot ceremony in a rural village in western Kenya last Saturday.

Later that day, Kenyan TV channel K24 broadcast a segment documenting the wedding, which included typical Pokot rituals like drinking a type of fermented goat or cow milk called mursik, and eating camel meat.

The report also claimed that Estes, referred to by her Pokot name of “Cheigar” had undergone FGM.

“Cheigar agreed to undergo the cut and fully immerse herself in Pokot culture,” the voice-over said as the camera zoomed in on Estes smiling in a Pokot hut. “An American on the outward but now acceptable by the Pokot community.”

FGM, also known as female circumcision or female genital cutting, is an ancient ritual the United Nations defines as the partial or total removal of external female genitalia for nonmedical reasons. For many women who undergo it, the cutting leaves traumatic memories and can cause lifelong health complications. FGM was banned in Kenya in 2011, but is believed to still be practiced in clinics and homes, including by healthcare providers. In the area where the Pokot live for instance, the practice has been particularly difficult to eradicate.

The story was soon picked up from K24’s website, which included a YouTube video, by other Kenyan news outlets like Nairobi News, Face2Face Africa, Tuko and AllAfrica. Estes and her husband were subsequently called out on Twitter for cultural appropriation, racial tourism and recklessly endangering girls and women who are forced to undergo FGM. Some users even called for Estes to be deported.

But when contacted by BuzzFeed News, Estes said the story was not true. While she and her husband had gone through a traditional wedding, she definitely had not undergone FGM.

Kenya’s Anti-FGM Board also released a statement saying the story was wrong.