By Endale Engida
AYSSAITA, AFAR REGION, 24 November 2016 – Asiya’s marriage was meant to be a joyful occasion, but on her wedding night, this 18-year-old found only pain.
Like nearly all young girls in Ethiopia’s Afar Region, she had undergone Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) at a very young age and trying to consummate the marriage with her husband brought only pain and bleeding.
In the Afar region, a particularly severe form of FGM/C known as Type III or infibulation is practiced whereby the vaginal opening is partially sewn shut, condemning generations of women to pain.
Asiya’s husband, Burhan Helen, was determined to help his wife and he asked around and discovered that the hospital in their woreda (district) had recently set up a gynaecological unit specialized in opening up women who had been subjected to infibulation.
FGM/C has long been outlawed in Ethiopia, but is still widespread in the country with an estimated 65 per cent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 (EDHS 2016) having been cut – down from 74 per cent in 2005 EDHA
However, those numbers mask regional variations. In regions like Afar and the Somali it can reach up to 90 per cent while other areas have a much lower prevalence due to different cultural norms in the diverse nation of Ethiopia.
In regions where it is practiced across eastern Africa and up into Egypt, it is believed FGM/C is necessary to ensure a woman stays a virgin before marriage, and many men say they would not marry a woman who hasn’t been cut.
In 2014, the Government of Ethiopia committed to ending the practice by 2025 and has been working on discouraging it through public information campaigns. Penalties for carrying it out range from three to ten years in prison.
For those like Asiya who have already undergone the procedure, the new gynaecological unit established in May 2016 at the Ayssaita Woreda hospital is a life saver.
Thanks to the funds from Foundation Espoir through the Luxembourg Committee for UNICEF, the hospital now employs Dr. Hatse Abreha, the only gynaecologist in the hospital.
The hospital, which serves a mostly pastoral population of 90,000, can now treat gynaecological and obstetric cases, including FGM/C reconstructions. By October 2016, the hospital was treating 200 FGM/C cases a month. In many cases, patients can be discharged the same day after the surgery.
Dr. Abreha diagnosed Asiya’s condition and also noted that in addition to pain during intercourse, she suffered discomfort and slow flow during menstruation. She and her husband were counselled about the procedure and then she received the deinfibulation surgery.
“I want to see these innocent girls and women no longer be victims of FGM/C, though these kind of interventions are only part of the solution and will not solve the root cause of the problem,” he said.
After a careful period of outpatient monitoring, Asiya was pronounced cured.
“We have special gratitude to Dr. Hatse Abreha for his friendly care and follow up,” she said during a follow up visit. “We are here to teach our community not to practice FGM/C on their girls and our own children will not be victims of FGM/C.”