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.

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. ”