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 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.