Eritrean refugee women and their Ethiopian hosts in the Afar region of Ethiopia ensure children attend school

By Amanda Westfall

Afar region, Ethiopia-On 21 September, in Asayita Woreda, Afar Region, Ethiopia, female community leaders who missed the opportunity for education when they were young, are now ensuring their children don’t follow that same path. Through the UNICEF-introduced and UK-Aid funded Accelerated Readiness Programme, children from both refugee and host communities in Afar Region, Ethiopia are participating in the summer programme to help prepare for primary school.

Zahara Halo, 28, a mother of three from Afar Region, Ethiopia, has never been to school. She was married, had a child at 13, and spent the latter half of her childhood raising her children and performing household chores expected of Afaari women: collecting water, cooking, building huts, tending cattle, and raising children.

Rokiya Mohammed, 35, is an Afaari woman from the Afar region of Eritrea. She also has never enjoyed the benefits of education, having spent much of her life doing household chores and caring for her seven children.
Approximately 13 years ago, Rokiya fled Eritrea to Ethiopia during the war between the two countries. She arrived with other Eritreans to Asayita Woreda where she has integrated into the host Ethiopian community and has received support ever since.

Zahar and Rokiya, although from two different countries, have many things in common. Both have learned to live in harsh desert climates, both are from pastoralist cultures, and both never had the opportunity for school. However, both are determined to change that pattern for their children.

They are part of the community’s Women’s Self Help Group, where they work to change the conditions for women and children in the community. Among other group activities, such as adult literacy classes and providing loans for small business, they are the delegated community leaders who ensure their children go to school.

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Eritrean refugee girls, Aysa, Musa, and Lali, attend UNICEF’s ASR programme at Sembile Primary School along with their fellow refugee and host community classmates. © UNICEF Ethiopia/2018/Tadesse

When these women heard that the new Accelerated School Readiness (ASR) programme was coming to Afar, they were determined to help. As Zahara explains:
“As the group leader (of the Women’s Group) we have difficulties in finding group members who can read and write, and we suffer a lot from this. That is why I am inspired to put my child in school. I do not want him to suffer as I have.”

Accelerated School Readiness(ASR) 

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Eritrean Refugee and Ethiopian host community children participating in ASR at Sembile Primary School © UNICEF Ethiopia/2018/Tadesse

ASR was designed for vulnerable children who never had early learning opportunities (like private or public pre-school) but are of age to begin primary school. It was developed through proven research on the importance of play-based activities (i.e. story-telling, art activities, literacy games) to help develop early literacy and communications skills. ASR gets children excited for school, ready for school, and keeps them in school.

In Ethiopia primary school dropout rates remain unfortunately high, with the highest rates found in Grade 1 (at 18 per cent), which is strongly linked to a lack of quality pre-primary opportunities. ASR is an innovative response to this challenge. In 2015, UNICEF introduced the initiative in rural areas of Ethiopia. Because it is relatively inexpensive (approximately US$13 per child), quick (two months over the summer), and effective, it has become a popular option for disadvantaged areas.

In 2016, ASR was offered to refugees and their host communities in an integrated and equitable approach. When they heard the news that ASR would be coming to refugees and host communities in Afar Region, the Women’s Group was ready and excited to support.

ASR is only possible through female community leaders

In Asayita Woreda, children are anywhere and everywhere – in condensed urban areas and expansive rural communities. In the vast deserts of the Afar Region where the climate is harsh and transportation services are minimal, it can be a major challenge to get children to school – a feat that is only possible by the determined female leaders of the community.

In less than one week, these women helped mobilize 258 children from urban and rural areas of Asayita Woreda, an area that spans almost 1,700 square kilometers.

Zahara explains how they were able to accomplish this: “We go from door-to-door and provide school materials for low income children … thereby giving the parents incentives to send children to school.”

Another Women’s Group member, Zahara Ali adds, “I know all of the mothers. I go knock on doors and say that you better send your children to school. I check up on each of them.”

Equal opportunities for refugees and host community children

Some Eritrean refugees, like Rokiya, have integrated into the local town, but some have decided to stay in the refugee camp just a few kilometers away. When Rokiya heard that ASR is also happening in the camp she was extremely grateful. “We are so happy our brothers and sisters also get this programme. We are grateful to see our children have equal opportunities like the host communities.”

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Zahara and her six-year-old son Zuruson
© UNICEF Ethiopia/2018/Tadesse

Because of determined women like Zahara and Rokiya, positive change is possible for the next generation in Asayita Woreda. As Women’s Group member Misre Ali explains, “We are in the darkness. We never had a chance to be educated and we don’t want this for our children. We want them to know many things.”

Since the introduction of ASR in Ethiopia, UNICEF has directly supported over 45,000 children in addition to the thousands more the Government has helped through their ASR interventions. As a result, hundreds of thousands of children have enjoyed its benefits in becoming well prepared for primary school.

Survivors of FGM facilitate discussions to end the practice

By Martha Tadesse

Fatuma learned about the impacts of FGM/C after her first delivery and refused to have her daughters go through the same procedure.

Chifra, Afar, 23 January 2018 – “I had severe period pain, and my labour was a life and death situation,” says Fatuma Abdu, 28, who had undergone Type III FGM/C as a child. Fatuma has two daughters, a 4–year-old and a 20-months-old.

She recalls her first pregnancy experience saying, “I was very weak during my first pregnancy. I was in labour for 24 hours before they took me to the hospital. I gave birth at the hospital. However, because of our tradition, I have stitched again. My menstrual cycle pain was agonizing. I got pregnant again, and it was worse than my first experience. I was in labour for three days until I was unconscious and found myself at Mille Maternity hospital.

The doctor told me I would have suffered from fistula had I stayed home longer than that. I had a stillbirth.  I was physically and emotionally hurt. My third pregnancy was much better because of the surgery at the hospital.”

Zahara Mohammod, 28 discusses about FGM/C with “Unmarried Adolescent Girls’ Club” at Mille Woreda, Afar. © UNICEF Ethiopia /2018/Tadesse

Fatuma learned about the impacts of FGM/C after her first delivery and refused to have her daughters go through the same procedure. She explains how it was difficult to convince her husband on her decision saying, because “The day I went through all that because of my FGM/C procedure was the same day I made that decision. My husband disagreed because we had always thought we were right to practice FGM/C. Mind you, even though he knew how much I have suffered, he still could not make up his mind. I told him I would sue anyone who would touch my daughters and that was it.”

The UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme has been working in collaboration with Bureau of Women and Children Affairs (BoWCA) to accelerate the abandonment of FGM/C in Afar region since November 2008. During the implementation of its first phase that ended in 2013, the programme targeted six districts out of the 32 districts in the region, which have declared abandonment of FGM/C presently.

According to the assessment made at the end of this first phase, the programme has resulted in substantial changes in belief and practice of FGM/C in target districts, with a practice decline from 90 per cent in 2008 to 39 per cent after five years of intervention. The second phase of the programme is currently implementing social mobilization interventions in three districts with the aim of improving community knowledge, attitude and practice. The programme heavily focuses on the engagement of community and religious leaders who are the most influential persons in the community. Additionally, the programme promotes community conversations through various discussion groups to create awareness and empower community members for a lasting change.

Fatuma is among the trainers who have been selected to facilitate discussion groups in their communities. The UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme has trained 176 facilitators for community conversation and dialogue from 3 districts on FGM/C and early marriage. This community conversation and dialogue on FGM/C is inclusive of girls, boys, men, women, and the youth in the community.

“I hope everyone listens to our suffering and refuses to undergo the FGM/C procedure.”

Sharing her experiences with the training, Fatuma states, “The training was such an eye-opener. I was challenged regarding my wrong beliefs, and it helped me speak up for others.”

According to Sheikh Mohammod Dersa, President of the Islamic Affairs Supreme Council in Afar, the FGM/C intervention by UNFPA-UNICEF has brought a behavioural change in the community.

He states, “We are grateful for what UNFPA and UNICEF have done in our region. We have been working with them hand in hand. But, we still need to work harder, because the issue is deeply rooted in social and religious norms. Social norms are powerful. We need to know that this is a generational issue, as well. It takes a lot of effort and collaboration to challenge communities and achieve the goal of ending FGM/C. We are always ready to teach our community, and we hope the programme continues and expands to other districts.”

UNICEF and UNFPA to speed up their efforts to end the violent practice of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C)

Addis Ababa, 06 February 2018 As the world observes International Day of Zero Tolerance on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), UNICEF and UNFPA in Ethiopia commit to accelerate their joint efforts to end the violent practice of FGM/C.

Given the rising number of girls at risk, the two agencies believe that with increased investment and redoubled political commitment, with greater community engagement and more empowered women and girls, it is a race that can be won.

The Sustainable Development Goals recognize that female genital mutilation undermines progress towards a more equal, just, and prosperous world. They set an ambitious target of eliminating all such harmful practices against girls and women by 2030.  UNICEF and UNFPA globally devoted the theme of the year 2018 – “Ending Female Genital Mutilation is a political decision” – to engaging government bodies and policy makers to join efforts.

In Ethiopia, the Government expressed its commitment to ending FGM/C and child marriage by the year 2025 at the London Girls’ Summit in 2014 and committed itself to reducing the practice to 0.5 per cent by 2020 in the Growth and Transformation Plan. The Government has also taken key programmatic actions which include  endorsement of the National Strategy and Action Plan on Harmful Traditional Practices against Women and Children as well as establishment of the National Alliance to End Child Marriage and FGM/C. 

“To accelerate the elimination of the practice , we need to work at grassroots level, at scale and hand-in-hand with communities – boys and girls, women and men, and most importantly, traditional and religious leaders –  to reach the hearts and minds of millions of people,” said UNICEF Representative in Ethiopia Gillian Mellsop. “We also believe that it is important to address the health and psychological complications caused by FGM/C by providing the necessary health services to help survivors lead a healthy life,” she said.

“We have seen that rates of female genital mutilation can drop rapidly in places where the issue is taken on wholeheartedly by governments, by communities, by families. Where social norms are confronted, village by village. Where medical professionals come together to oppose the practice, where laws are enacted to make it a crime and where those laws are enforced. Where wider access to health, education and legal services ensure sustainable change. Where girls and women are protected and empowered to make their voices heard,” said Ms. Bettina Maas, UNFPA representative to Ethiopia.

The 2016 Ethiopia Demographic and Health Survey shows a declining  trend in FGM/C from 74 per cent in 2005 to 65 per cent in 2015  in the age group 15-49 years, and from 62.1 per cent to 47 per cent  in the 15-19 year old age group. The survey also shows a more significant decrease in the younger age cohort compared to the older: prevalence is 75 per cent in the age group 35-49 years, 59 per cent in the 20-24 year age group, and 47 per cent in the age group 15-19 years. FGM/C prevention and care Afar

UNICEF and UNFPA have been working  together for many years in Ethiopia on programmes to end FGM/C. One such programme is in the Afar Region which has recently been expanded to the SNNP region. The programme has a social mobilization component which aims to increase community knowledge and change attitudes towards the practice through religious and clan leaders as well as youth and adolescent girls who convene community dialogues. Tailored messages through radio and television also reach a wider audience.

UNICEF and UNFPA also work together to improve enforcement of the law through increasing legal literacy, strengthening special units in the law enforcement bodies, and supporting community level surveillance in tracking cases of FGM/C for better reporting and management of cases. The programme has facilitated the declaration of abandonment of the practice in 6 districts in Afar Region. 

Globally, the prevalence of FGM/C has declined by nearly a quarter since around 2000. In countries where UNFPA and UNICEF work jointly to end female genital mutilation, girls are one third less likely to undergo this harmful practice today than they were in 1997. More than 25 million people in some 18,000 communities across 15 countries have publicly disavowed the practice since 2008.

FGM/C survivors teach communities to end the practice in Ethiopia

By Martha Tadesse

“I used to believe 12 years ago that FGM/C is a mandatory requirement in our religion Islam. I was doing what every mother did back then.”

Mille, Afar, 23 January 2018 – “My labor took two nights and a day. I was in so much pain. It was a very painful experience and most of all, I was a child myself.” says Kedija Mohammod, a mother of three children (ages 12, 8 and 5).

Kedija learned about the harmful effects of FGM/C through community conversations supported by the UNICEF-UNFPA Joint Programme, in partnership with Bureau of Women and Children Affairs (BoWCA), to accelerate the abandonment of FGM/C in the Afar region.

FGM/C or locally known as KetnterKeltti, the removal of some or all of the external female genitalia, is a highly prevalent traditional practice in Ethiopia that has a multi-dimensional impact on the lives of girls and women.

According to Ethiopia and Demographic Health Survey (EDHS) 2016, FGM/C rate in Afar is 91 per cent for ages of 15-49, placing it among the highest prevalent regions in the country next to Somali. Moreover, the region practices Type III infibulation, which is the most severe form of FGM/C characterized by the total elimination of the external female genitalia and stitching, leaving a small opening for urination.

“No one should go through what we Afar women have gone through. I can’t even explain the pain.”

The UNICEF-UNFPA Global Programme, which was launched in November 2008, promotes community-led discussions on harmful practices like FGM/C in which communities are empowered to progress toward collective abandonment.

The programme targets 9 districts (3 in zone 1 and 6 in zone 3) in the Afar region, each having multiple sub-districts. A total of 60 trainers were trained for married and unmarried adolescent girls from these districts and they are trained on harmful practices and menstrual hygiene in order to lead various discussion groups in their communities. These married and unmarried adolescent girls’ clubs aim to facilitate sustained awareness.

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Zahara Mohammod, 28 discusses about FGM/C with “Unmarried Adolescent Girls’ Club” at Mille Woreda, Afar. © UNICEF Ethiopia /2018/Tadesse

Zahara Mohammod, one of the trainers in Mille Woreda, testifies that the programme has brought a huge difference in the community. She says, “People used to think that FGM/C is required by the Quran, but the programme has raised awareness among the community on the lack of direct link between the practice and religion. People are now listening and most have changed their stance. Women used to give birth in their houses, and we have lost many due to prolonged labor. But now, the Barbra May Maternity Hospital is a few minutes away from our village, so women go to the hospital for delivery and treatment. This is happening because of community conversations and girls’ club discussions in our villages.”

Kedija, an FGM/C survivor herself, regrets having made her daughter go through the same procedure. She says, “I used to think 12 years ago that FGM/C is mandatory and a requirement in my religion Islam. I was doing what every mother did back then.”

However, Kedija is now teaching her community and sharing her experience. “ I have been working with the community for two years now and the change motivates me to do even more. People used to mock me at first because FGM/C is considered as a religious practice, but many have changed their attitude and are thankful for our discussions now. I have never thought FGM/C could have consequences like mental and emotional damage until I had my first intercourse with my husband. No one should go through what we Afar women have gone through. I can’t even explain the pain.”

While talking about her daughter, Kedija says, “I have shared my experience with my daughter. She is aware of the consequences. My daughter is now in grade 7. I will not marry her off to anyone out of her will. She will get married when she finishes her education. I hope she will marry an educated man who can take care of her and take her to the hospital during her labor.”

According to Seada Moahmmod, at BoWCA, these discussions have been increasing awareness and openly challenging community perspectives towards FGM/C. She says, “The community’s awareness has improved a lot, and people discuss openly about the practice. They used to think that exposing stories would lead them to discrimination, but cases are now exposed to local enforcement bodies.  Many households have already rejected FGM/C. It is quite a success.”

While positive outcomes have certainly been observed in the districts, Zahra Humed, Head BoWCA of the region, says, “The outcome of the programme has been very rewarding and the behavioral change we have attained is wonderful. However, we still need to continue working until all districts abandon the practice once and for all. ”

The Government of Sweden grants US$ 2.5 million to UNICEF for emergency response

The Government of Sweden provides another US$2.5 million to UNICEF Ethiopia to support Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), health and nutrition programmes in the drought affected regions of Afar, Oromia Somali and Southern Nations Nationalities and People’s regions.

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In Ethiopia, where 8.5 million people are currently in need of relief food assistance due to the recurrent drought emergency, 376,000 children are estimated to require treatment for severe acute malnutrition, 10.5 million people require access to safe drinking water and sanitation services and 1.9 million school-aged children need emergency school feeding and learning material assistance.

The contribution provided by the Government of Sweden will be used to construct and rehabilitate water supply schemes, procure Emergency Drug and Case Treatment Centre kits as well as obtain Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) supplies including ready to use therapeutic food (RUTF), tents and Stabilization Centre materials in the four regions highly affected by the drought emergency.

UNICEF is grateful to the Government of Sweden for its continued support for providing life-saving interventions during the current humanitarian situation which continues to affect mostly women and children.

In 2017, the Government of Sweden has contributed more than US$5 million to UNICEF-assisted humanitarian programmes in Ethiopia.

Women Volunteer Their Time to Help Eradicate FGM/C

By Esete Yeshitla

Zahara Ali, a volunteer social worker for Aseita Primary Hospital, Afar regional State.
Zahara Ali, a volunteer social worker for Aseita Primary Hospital, Afar regional State. Zahara serves her community by teaching about FGM and the consequences after taking training. Zahara advises women with FGM complications including Fistula to come to the hospital for treatment. Zahara does the advocating job without being paid. Aseita Woreda, Afar regional State. UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Mersha

AYSAITA, AFAR, 18 May 2017 –Even with her sun-stricken skin and tired eyes, one can feel the vibrancy and strong personality of Zahara Ali. Zahara is a volunteer social worker who dedicates herself to helping her community without any compensation. With some broken Amharic mixed with a translated Afari language and a smile on her face, she starts to explain how she ended up serving her community.

“My first daughter was lucky not to get mutilated,” explains Zahara, “I was sensitized about FGM/C at that time.” However, her second daughter was cut. “I was heavily pressured by family and neighbours.”

Zahara allowed the traditional cut to be done on her daughter at seven days old, not knowing that it would end up being the most ‘incorrect and terrible procedure’. Facing complications and enduring pain, her daughter had to be brought to Aysaita Primary Hospital for corrective surgery.

After that experience, Zahara became much stronger and committed to teach others about the harm of FGM/C. When a community FGM/C sensitization programme was started in her town, some volunteers were deterred due to the lack of compensation, but for Zahara, that did not matter. “After going through the pain with my second daughter, I decided to work as the hospital’s social worker. I am convinced that I have to help mothers with FGM/C complications and make a difference in people lives,” says Zahara.

“The hospital contacts Zahara to sensitize the community,” says Dr. Hatesy Abraha, the gynaecologist at Aysaita Primary Hospital who has been hired through UNICEF’s FGM/C programme. He adds, “It is sort of demand and supply. The hospital provides treatment while utilizing people like Zahara to sensitize and convince mothers. Otherwise, it is not common for mothers in the Afar region to go to the hospital.”

Zahara was trained on FGM/C by the community sensitization programme, which was launched by UNICEF and the Regional Health Bureau. She then goes into her community with volunteers like her to teach about the symptoms of FGM/C complications. That is when women with FGM/C complications and other gynaecological needs seek treatment from the hospital. Zahara brings in mothers who have medical cases such as fistula or urinary complications. She advices pregnant women to have antenatal care and institutional delivery.

Medibo Ahmed,60, Aseita woreda, Afar regional State.
Medibo Ahmed,60, Aseita woreda, Afar regional State. Medibo was infibulated each time after she gave birth. The FGM was the cause for her complications. She had deinfibulation and vaginal prolapse repair and uterus removal at Aysaita Primary Hospital. She is happy with the procedures she had. UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Mersha

While visiting the hospital with Dr. Hatesy, we met patients who had undergone such corrective procedures. One patient was Ebo Ahmed, a 60-year-old who has had many complications due to the type III FGM/C that was performed on her years earlier. Ebo has been stitched after every birth of her five children. Now, she has had vaginal prolapse, a condition in which structures such as the uterus, rectum, bladder, urethra, small bowel or the vagina itself begin to fall out of their normal positions. In addition to repairing the prolapse, the medical team removed her uterus as well, all done in effort to ease complications from her FGM/C.

Ebo says, “I used to visit the hospital frequently as I was in severe and constant pain.” This constant pain was due to repeated urinary tract infections and other complications she had due to the FGM/C.  Ebo is determined to advocate and teach her community by sharing her experience. “I will advise, if they give me their ears,” she declares. As she prepares for discharge, she expresses her gratitude for the medical procedure, which was nearly free of charge thanks to UNICEF and partners.

Aysaita Primary Hospital is one of the hospitals in Afar region that was upgraded from a health centre in 2014, providing services for a majority pastoralist population of approximately 100,000. Through UNICEF support, the hospital employed a gynaecologist in May 2016. Following his assignment, the hospital started providing inpatient and outpatient management for FGM/C complications and different gynaecologic and obstetric cases.

The hospital has five trained health providers on clinical management of FGM/C victims and has two admission wards with a total of 10 beds. In 2017, they treated 292 cases, up from zero in 2016. With efforts from community members such as Zahara and Ebo and treatment from medical staff such as Dr. Hatesy, the goal is that one day again, the cases will be at zero – this time as a sign of tremendous progress towards eradicating the FGM/C practice.

The Brutal Reality of Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting

By Esete Yeshitla

Erbeti, Sfar, 17 May 2017 – Muna*, like many other girls in Afar region, was subject to type III female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C), a removal of the clitoris and the labia minora as well as infibulation: the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. In her first few days of life, she was irreversibly changed; the fate of 98 per cent of females in Afar according to the 2016 Demographic Health Survey.

Years later she began experiencing unending pain. “It is just not how I expected my life would be,” Muna explained. It began at the age of 13 when she had her first period, which quickly became her monthly nightmare. In fact, it was only the beginning of a brutal reality.

At the age of 15, Muna entered into an arranged marriage. Sexual intercourse is another painful experience. “I have never enjoyed sexual intercourse with my husband,” said Muna.

She soon became pregnant. Going to a health facility to give birth is considered taboo in her community; a woman showing her private parts to a man is ‘unacceptable’. Rather, women are to give birth at home. It was no different for Muna.

“I had a really horrible labour and birth experience; I was bleeding and was in dire pain. I felt I was dying,” Muna said. “I truly believe I would have died I had not been taken to the hospital,” she added. Health extension workers in the community came to her house and took her by ambulance to the hospital.

She recovered in the hospital, but that was not the end to her agony. Infections and bleeding continued for weeks. All this led Muna to make up her mind that she would never let her new born daughter go through life like her.

As accustomed in her community, when her daughter was less than one month old, her family started planning for her FGM/C. Muna strongly refused: “I do not want her to go through the same pain. My husband almost made me leave the house, but I was persistent,” said Muna.

Community efforts supported Muna’s tough decision. The Government of Ethiopia, together with UNICEF, implements a multi-sector FGM/C eradication programme, with prevention, protection and care components each respectively managed by the Bureau of Women and Children’s Affairs, the Bureau of Justice and the Regional Health Bureau. Communication committees are one of the interventions, comprised of local religious leaders, clan leaders, health extension workers and police officers. Each fully integrated into their communities, they keep alert for three types of situations: child marriage, instances of FGM/C or a woman whose husband is refusing her to give birth in a health facility. They are reported to the appropriate sector office for further action. The committee also organizes training, supported by UNICEF and the Bureau of Justice, for community members on harmful traditional practices, with an emphasis on FGM/C.

Asrat Belayneh, a teacher at Erubeti Woreda, Afar Regional State.
Asrat Belayneh, a teacher at Erubeti Woreda, Afar Regional State. Asrat is passionate about her career. She teaches the girls about FGM/C. In addition, she communicates incidents such as early marriage and FGM/C practices to the concerned bureau in Erubti Woreda. Erubeti Woreda, Afar Regional State. UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Mersha

Asrat, a communication committee volunteer, is also a teacher who is passionate about improving the lives of girls and women. “If I were to work in a modern community, I would not be satisfied. Helping to rescue young girls [from FGM/C] is fulfilling,” she says with tears in her eyes, “This issue is often a matter of life and death for them.”

Muna is happy that she saved her daughter from FGM/C and grateful for the education her community is receiving through the FGM/C programme. “Because of the awareness and training, my husband accepted my decision. Otherwise, it would have been impossible,” she said.

Enhancing knowledge to bringing social norm change

Sheikh Mohammed Dersa, the president of the Afar Region Islamic Supreme Council, started to combat FGM/C 25 years ago. He believes that FGM/C is a harmful practice that risks the life of young girls and has no basis in Islamic law but rather is Pharaonic. “When it comes to protection of girls from harmful tradition practices such as FGM/C, our challenge is lack of knowledge,” Sheikh Mohammed said.

Sheikh, Mohammed Dersa, the president of the Afar Region Islamic Supreme Council speaks of his role in preventing FGM in their community.
Sheikh, Mohammed Dersa, the president of the Afar Region Islamic Supreme Council speaks of his role in preventing FGM in their community. Religious leaders such as himself, motivate community members to participate in community dialogues in order to reach a general consensus that the practice is not a religious duty. Erubti woreda, Afar regional State. UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Mersha

Years ago, Sheik Mohammed and other religious and clan leaders who were against FGM/C, were highly resisted by the community and some religious leaders; it was unimaginable to stop the practice. Hence, they started advising people who practice type III FGM/C  to reduce the practice to type I, as type I is considered the less painful than the other FGM/C practices (where a girl’s clitoris is ‘only’ cut or removed). The FGM/C practice used to be celebrated with a feast, but nowadays it is done behind curtains, an indication of the progress made.

Through partner collaboration, UNICEF is sensitizing the community gate keepers such as religious and clan leaders to support the effort; engaging the community through regular community dialogue, involvement of adolescent girls in the change process and implementing various sensitization events. Thus, it is believed a critical mass across the community is being built to support the change of social norms and end the practice.

Another facet of eradicating FGM/C is the strengthening and enforcement of legal frameworks, as the Ethiopian Government has passed laws to deter the practice. To this end, consultations to endorse the draft family law, enhancing legal literacy of the community, building the capacity of law enforcement bodies and the establishment and strengthening of community surveillance mechanisms are among the key interventions.

Ending a practice which has been long engrained in a community cannot be done with a single, short-term intervention. With the support of international donors, UNICEF is undertaking this extensive, multisector approach alongside the Government of Ethiopia to ensure that progress continues until no girl and no women are subject to the brutal reality of FGM/C.

*Name has been changed