17 February 2015, Semera, Afar Region: A delegation led by Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark paid a one day visit to the Afar Region of Ethiopia to observe first-hand the implementation of the Joint Programme on eliminating female genital mutilation/ cutting (FGM/C) supported by UNFPA, United Nations Population Fund, and UNICEF, United Nations Children’s Fund as well as a programme on the prevention of child marriage. She was able to see efforts undertaken by community members regarding the abandonment of the two harmful practices and institutional responses at mitigating complications. Crown Princess Mary was accompanied by the Danish Minister for Trade and Development Cooperation, Mr. Mogens Jensen.
The Joint Programme addresses the issue of FGM/C not only because of its harmful impact on the reproductive and sexual health of women, but also because it violates women’s and girls’ fundamental human rights. This harmful practice has both immediate and long term consequences to the health and well-being of girls and women, negatively impacting maternal and neonatal health outcomes, and also increasing the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission. The practice often leaves girls with severe pain and trauma, shock, hemorrhage, sepsis, urine retention, ulceration of the genital region, and urinary infection, among other complications. Girls’ and women’s health, their empowerment, and the realization of their rights are negatively affected by FGM as well as the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals related to reducing child mortality, improving maternal health and combating HIV/AIDS.
In the Afar Region girls and women are subjected to the worst form of the practice – infibulation – usually at the ages of seven to nine. In some districts in Afar, this harmful traditional practice is even exercised within some days after the birth of the child. The rights-based approach affirms that well–being, bodily integrity and health are influenced by the way a human being is valued.
In the first leg of her visit, Crown Princess Mary met different community members at a locality in the Afambo District and observed community dialogues involving different sectors of the community on the abandonment of FGM/C and child marriage. In addition, she observed a discussion of adolescent girls’ club and interacted with the participants. This intervention which aims at integrating efforts at the abandonment of FGM/C and child marriage is under implementation for the past two years in seven localities in the Afambo District and is coordinated by the Bureau of Women, Children and Youth Affairs of the Afar Region. Woizero Zahara Humed, Head of the Bureau of Women, Children and Youth Affairs, provided the visitors with an overall briefing regarding the programme. Crown Princess Mary interacted with community members, especially women and girls, and appreciated the efforts being undertaken to abandon the harmful practices and empower girls and women.
The Ethiopian Demographic and Health Survey of 2011puts the median age at first marriage for the Afar Region as the third lowest in the country at age 16.5. Moreover, despite the progresses made in recent years, the prevalence of FGM/C remains very high in the Region. According to the 2011 Welfare Monitoring Survey the prevalence of FGM/C is highest in the Region at 60 per cent. But six districts in the Region in which the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on Accelerated Abandonment of FGM/C is being implemented have publicly declare abandonment of the practice since the initiative was launched in 2008.
For the second leg of her visit, Crown Princess Mary was taken to the Barbara May Maternity Hospital in Mille District, where she observed services being provided by the hospital at tackling complications resulting from FGM/C and child marriage, such as teenage pregnancy and childbirth. She was given a tour of the facilities of the hospital by Valerie Browning – Head of the Afar Pastoralist Development Association which is running the hospital – and the medical staff of the hospital. It was indicated during the visit that the hospital which has been operational since 2011 is providing life-saving delivery services and treating obstetric complications created by FGM/C. Crown Princess Mary also got the chance to interact with patients during her visit to the hospital.
Crown Princess Mary admired the commitment of the Afar Region in tackling FGM and child marriage when she met Awel Arba, Vice President of the Afar Region, later in the day. She appreciated the support being provided by UNFPA and UNICEF. The Vice President assured the Crown Princess that his Region was keen in continuing efforts at improving the lives of girls and women and remarked that his Region looked forward to support from Denmark.
During the Girl’s Summit held in London in June 2014, the Government of Ethiopia has committed to eliminate both FGM/C and child marriage by 2025.
The visit was jointly organized by the Embassy of Denmark, UNFPA, and UNICEF.