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.

FGM/C prevention and care Afar
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.


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

New EU funding will provide essential nutrition treatment for 130,000 children under the age of five in Ethiopia

03 May 2017, ADDIS ABABA – The European Union (EU) has given €3 million in humanitarian funds to support UNICEF’s emergency interventions in Ethiopia. The new grant will provide life-saving nutrition treatment for severely malnourished children living in drought-affected areas of the country.

In Ethiopia, below-average rainfall has worsened the situation in Somali, Afar, and parts of Oromia and Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s (SNNP) regions, already severely affected by protracted drought. Access to water, sanitation and health services in these areas is critically low. In addition, livestock deaths have further reduced communities’ capacity to cope, resulting in food and nutrition insecurity. An estimated 303,000 children under the age of five are at risk of severe acute malnutrition (SAM) in 2017.

A boy is being treated for a severe malnutrition at a UNICEF supported stabilization centre“We are grateful for EU’s continuous and generous assistance for life-saving interventions addressing malnutrition at this critical time,” said Ms Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia. “We believe that the funding will significantly improve the health condition of children affected by the current drought and reduce the long term impact of malnutrition including life-long cognitive impairments.”

The EU humanitarian funding will support UNICEF to reduce child mortality and morbidity associated with SAM. In order to reach vulnerable children in remote areas, UNICEF will support the Government to expand existing healthcare services and provide treatment supplies – including ready-to-use-therapeutic food (RUTF), therapeutic milk, and medicines. The intervention will also aim at mobilizing communities’ awareness on preventing malnutrition.

“As devastating drought hits pastoral communities in the south and south-east of Ethiopia, bringing in its wake Acute Watery Diarrhoea (AWD) , food and water shortages, the EU is scaling up funding to provide children with vital nutrition care,” said Ségolène de Beco, Ethiopia Head of Office for EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO). “Infants and young children are extremely vulnerable to a combination of malnutrition and diseases. To avoid unnecessary deaths and suffering, we need to respond to the needs of these children in time with appropriate treatment and care.”

The concerted efforts of UNICEF with the EU, the Government of Ethiopia and other partners, will relieve the suffering of children while continuing to build long term resilience and strengthening the Government’s capacity to respond to future nutrition emergencies.

UNICEF commits to speed up its efforts to end the violent practice of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) 

Addis Ababa, 06 February 2017 As the world observes International Day of Zero Tolerance on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), UNICEF Ethiopia commits to accelerate its efforts to end the violent practice of FGM/C through strengthened partnerships with key actors in support of the national theme, “Let us keep our promise and fulfil our commitment by ending FGM/C.”

“FGM/C is a harmful practice inflicted on girls which deprives them of their rights to sexual and reproductive health, endangers their health by causing complications during delivery and even untimely death,” said Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia. “In order to fast-track the elimination of the practice once and for all, we need to work at grass roots level, at scale and hand in hand with communities – boys and girls, women and men, and most importantly, traditional and religious leaders who are influential communicators with the potential to reach the hearts and minds of millions of people. We also believe that it is equally important to address health and psychological complications caused by FGM/C- by providing the necessary health services for survivors to help them lead a healthy life.” 

According to the 2016 Ethiopian Demographic Health Survey (EDHS), FGM/C among the age group of 15-49 is most prevalent among the ethnic groups of Afar and Somali regions (98 per cent and 99 percent, respectively), followed by Welaita and Hadiya (92 per cent for both). In addition, 54 per cent of urban women have experienced FGM/C as compared to 68 per cent in rural areas. FGM/C is less prevalent among women with higher education and those in the highest wealth quintile. The 2016 EDHS shows a decreasing trend in FGM/C nationwide with the prevalence in 15-19 year olds down to 47 per cent as compared to 65 per cent in the 15-49 age group.

UNICEF supports the Government’s efforts through enhancing capacity to implement both preventive and responsive programmes at scale, and strengthening coordination mechanisms at different levels. UNICEF works with the National Alliance to progress ongoing roadmap development to end FGM/C and Child Marriage. It also, supports the involvement of faith based, traditional and community leaders, as communities usually link this harmful traditional practice to cultural and religious norms. In this regard, UNICEF signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in August 2016 with major religious institutions in the country to improve the lives of children, women and adolescents by promoting positive behaviour and social norms and to bring about the necessary societal shifts in communities.

UNICEF supports the Government in the health sector in the Afar and Somali regions to address FGM/C related complications by providing training to health workers; raising the communities’ awareness on health risks caused by FGM/C; identifying girls and women affected by FGM/C; developing training materials; recruiting gynaecologists and equipping selected hospitals with basic FGM/C care equipment.