Girls’ Empowerment Race in Samara to end Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C)

Children race held on the event Girl's Empowerment Regional race
Start of the Children race held as part of Girl’s Empowerment communication campaign in Gonder, Amhara region, Ethiopia © UNICEF Ethiopia 2015/Tesfaye

Addis Ababa, Samara, 1 October 2015 – UNICEF Ethiopia, in partnership with the Afar Bureau of Women Children and Youth Affairs (BoWCYA), the Afar Sport Commission and the Great Ethiopian Run, is organising a mass participation 5 km race in Samara on Sunday 4 October 2015, to promote Girls’ Empowerment. The theme of the run in Samara is “Ending Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting.”

Despite a steady reduction in Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C) nationally over the past decade, most recent official data from the 2011 Welfare and Monitoring Survey indicates that one in every four girls (23 per cent) is subjected to the practice. In the Afar Region, there has also been a steady decline, however, still an alarming 60 per cent of girls under the age of 14 years are subjected to female genital mutilation/cutting, placing the region second after Somali.[i]

In Afar, girls are subjected to an extreme form of the practice – infibulation – which involves total cutting of the genitalia followed by stitching. This practice usually happens when girls are between seven and nine years old, but in some districts in Afar this practice even occurs when girl babies are only a few days old. 

The Government, recognising that the abandonment of female genital mutilation requires a human-rights based approach and coordinated joint action by all actors, has adopted a National Strategy and Action Plan on Harmful Traditional Practices against Women and Children (2013) and established a National Alliance to End Child Marriage and FGM/C.

The Government of Afar with UNICEF and other partners is implementing interventions to address FGM/C around 3 pillars: prevention, protection and provision of services. Regarding prevention, girls’ empowerment programmes are underway through girls clubs, incentives to keep girls in school and social mobilisation activities, including this race. In addition, religious leaders and communities are working together in social mobilisation initiatives through community conversations and public declarations on the abandonment of the practice coupled with health extension workers’ awareness-raising efforts with communities on the negative health impact of the practice. Police, judges and prosecutors are being trained and specialised police units have been established to better respond to cases of FGM/C and to provide protection and child-friendly justice to girls. Health practitioners are increasingly providing services to girls who are suffering from complications resulting from FGM/C.

Through the ‘UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: Accelerating Change’,  UNFPA and UNICEF support the Government of Ethiopia and other partners such as the Afar Pastoralist Development Association (APDA) and Rohi Weddu to strengthen legislation outlawing the practice and to carry out activities enabling communities to make a coordinated and collective choice to abandon FGM/C.

FGM victim Ten year old Sadiye Abubakar in Mille, Afar, Ethiopia
Ten year old Sadiye Abubakar, admitted to Barbara May Hospital in Mille, Afar with her mother Sofya, unable to pass urine for more or less a month. ©Ethiopia/2013/Colville-Ebeling

“FGM/C is a violation of a girl’s right to health, well-being and self-determination,” says Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia. “FGM/C may cause severe pain and can result in prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility and even death. FGM/C is also harmful to new-borns due to adverse obstetric outcomes, leading to perinatal deaths.  The challenge now is to let girls and women, boys and men speak out loudly and clearly and announce they want this harmful practice abandoned,” she added.

A total of 2000 adults and 500 children are expected to participate in the mass mobilisation race, while over 5000 thousand spectators are expected to attend the community outreach programme. In addition, a photo and art exhibition, which is open to the public, and a media roundtable discussion will take place on the eve of the race. 

The events will be attended by high-level government dignitaries, representatives from the UN, NGOs, CSOs and members of the media. In addition, Thomas Gobena also known as “Tommy T”, international bass player for Gogol Bordello Band and who will be appointed as a National Ambassador to UNICEF Ethiopia this month will attend the activities in Samara. Other renowned artists and sport personalities will also attend the event to support the messaging around Girls’ Empowerment.

Donors appreciative of the joint UNFPA/UNICEF programme to stop FGM/C in Afar Region

By Wossen Mulatu

Trust fund donors visit of the UNFPA/UNICEF joint programme acceleration of change to eliminate FGM/C
Visit by Donors to the Social mobilisation interventions to end FGM/C in Wasero Village, Sabure Kebele, Afar Region. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Mulatu

26 MARCH, AFAR REGION, ETHIOPIA – Donors to the UNFPA/UNICEF programme to stop female genital mutilation and cutting in Ethiopia’s Afar region carried out a visit in March to see its progress.

Accompanied by staff from UNFPA and UNICEF, the donors from the governments of Italy, Norway, the United Kingdom and Luxembourg visited programmes run by implementing partner agencies, including the Afar Bureau of Women, Children and Youth Affairs (BoWCYA), Afar Pastoralist Development Association (ADPA) and the Rohi Weddu Pastoralist Development Association.

Work under the programme is being delivered in two phases – the first ran from 2008-2013 and saw interventions launched in six woredas (districts) out of a total of 32 in the Afar region. The second phase began last year and will run until 2017, covering three more woredas and including advocacy engagement at a federal level.

The implementing partners have responsibility for different aspects of the programme – the regional BoWCYA is responsible for the programme’s overall co-ordination and legal implementation, APDA focuses on reproductive health issues and Rohi Weddu aims to deliver wider community mobilisation and facilitating community dialogue.

In the last five years, the partners, with technical and financial support from UNFPA and UNICEF, have achieved impressive results.

The first phase of the project is running in 74 kebeles (sub-districts) of the six woredas of Zone Three of the region, with a total population of more than 400,000 people. These are: Awash Fentale, Gelaelo (Burimodaytu), Amibara, Gewane, Argoba, and Dulesa.

According to Zahra Humed Ali, Head of the Bureau of Women, Children and Youth Affairs, Afar is the first Ethiopian region to issue a proclamation on the abandonment of FGM/C.

Trust fund donors visit of the UNFPA/UNICEF joint programme acceleration of change to eliminate FGM/C
Group photo of adolescent girls from Aasero village, Sabure Kebele, Awash District in Afar region representing the new generation of uncut girls in the Region. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Mulatu

“Community conversations facilitated by influential leaders in the community including kebele administrators, women’s associations and Traditional Birth Attendants is making a significant impact on the road to the abandonment of FGM/C in the region and religious leaders are leading the movement,” she said.

Eleven woredas in Afar have already abandoned FGM/C, with six doing so with support from the UNFPA/UNICEF joint programme.

According to Valerie Browning, Programme Coordinator of Afar Pastoralist Development Association (APDA), the majority of women of reproductive age in Afar have undergone FGM/C and as a result commonly experience urinary retention, kidney disease and problems with menstruation and sexual intercourse.

The APDA is working to identify and support women affected by FGM/C through its work in the region.

The Barbra May Maternity Hospital in Mille is one health institution in the Afar Region to include FGM/C intervention as part of its maternal and health child services. The hospital opened in 2011 and is run by the APDA, treating many conditions related to FGM/C, like opening up infibulations, as well as more routine obstetric procedures.

Asmelash Woldemaraim, Executive Director of Rohi Weddu, says the UNFPA/UNICEF programme has dramatically raised awareness on FGM/C.

This has brought about a rapid decline in the prevalence of the practice, with 39 per cent of women affected in 2013, compared with 90 per cent in 2008.

Trust fund donors visit of the UNFPA/UNICEF joint programme acceleration of change to eliminate FGM/C
Momina Gida, 17 years old in Aasero village, Sabure Kebele, Awash District in Afar region represents the new generation of uncut girls in the Region. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Mulatu

Recognising the influential nature of the Afar social and clan structures, the UNFPA/UNICEF joint programme focuses on changing the attitudes of community leaders by creating a core group of advocates for change.

The group consists of senior regional government officials, religious and clan leaders, elders and FGM/C practitioners. The aim is to change the attitudes of people within this group, prompting community dialogue to bring about a consensus within the wider community.

Data collected at the sub-district and regional level show that more than 7,000 girls in the six districts of Zone Three of the Afar region have remained uncut since the start of the programme.

Following the visit, the donors acknowledged the commitment of the Afar regional government, as well as the two UN agencies running the joint programme, to bringing about a significant reduction of the rate of FGM/C in the region.

They agreed on the need to increase funding, as resources are stretched, even though the programme is delivering results and highlighted the importance of reaching less accessible areas.

This is a particular challenge, given the pastoralist nature of the community, with 90 per cent of livelihoods being reliant on subsistence livestock production. The region’s harsh climate is another challenge.

Finally, the donors expressed their belief that breaking down taboos and educating the community about the problems posed by FGM/C will bring about positive change – the hope is that once the majority can be convinced that this practice is wrong, the message will spread among more communities and end it for good.

Ethiopia commits to eliminating child marriage and FGM by 2025

The Government of Ethiopia has made a commitment to eliminate child marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in Ethiopia by 2025.

A panel at the Girl Summit Right to left: Demeke Mekonnen, Deputy Prime Minister, Ethiopia. Hina Jilani, Pakistan. Dr. Mustapha S. Kaloko, Commissioner for Social Affairs. Tony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director
His Excellency Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Demeke Mekonnen announced a package of action at a global summit in London, hosted jointly by the UK government and UNICEF.

World Leaders from across Africa, South Asia, the Middle East and Europe attended the first Girl Summit on July 22nd 2014. His Excellency DPM Mekonnen was speaking as part of a round-table discussion that included the Executive Director of UNICEF, Anthony Lake and the Commissioner for Social Affairs at the African Union Commission, Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko.

His Excellency DPM Mekonnen said:

“Our approach puts girls at the heart of our commitment, working closely with them, their families and communities, to end these practices for good and break the cycle of harmful traditional practices.”

He said that Ethiopia would achieve its goal by 2025 through a strategic, multi-sectoral approach and highlighted four areas where the government has promised to take action:

  1. Through incorporating relevant indicators in the National Plan and the National Data Collection Mechanisms including the 2015 Demographic and Health Survey to measure the situation of FGM/C and Child, Early and Forced Marriage (CEFM) and to establish a clear bench mark
  2. Through enhancing the coordination and effectiveness of the National Alliance to End Child Marriage and the National Network to End FGM by engaging different actors with key expertise
  3. Through strong, accountable mechanisms for effective law enforcement
  4. And, through an increase of 10% in financial resources to eliminate FGM/C and CEFM from the existing budget.

The Minister of Women, Children and Youth Affairs, Her Excellency w/ro Zenebu Tadesse spoke about some of the achievements Ethiopia has made in recent years. She said the national rate of FGM has decreased by half among girls aged 14 and under, from 52% in 2000, to 23% in 2011 and the national prevalence of child marriage has declined from 33.1% in 1997, to 21.4% in 2010. 

Her Excellency Minister Tadesse said:

“I am proud of our achievements and I would like to share with you our experiences with the hope of inspiring other nations to take decisive, robust action.”

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said:

“All girls have the right to live free from violence and coercion, without being forced into marriage or the lifelong physical and psychological effects of female genital mutilation. Abhorrent practices like these, no matter how deeply rooted in societies, violate the rights of girls and women across the world. I am hosting the Girl Summit today so that we say with one voice – let’s end these practices once and for all.”

The Summit brought together young people, community members, activists, traditional and faith leaders, government and international leaders, experts and champions committed to the rights and empowerment of women and girls.

Attendees heard from girls and women who have lived through child, early and forced marriage and FGM/C, and from inspiring individuals who are now campaigning for change so that others can enjoy greater opportunities in the future.

14-year-old year-old Yeshalem from the Amhara region of Ethiopia underwent FGM/C when she was aged three – and shortly after, she was married to a man 15 years older than her.

14 year-old Yeshalem from the Amhara region of Ethiopia underwent FGM/CYeshalem said: “After the wedding, I was immediately sent to live with my husband and his parents. My husband said to my family ‘she’s too young’ and eventually I was allowed to return to my own family.”

Her father tried to marry her again, but Yeshalem told her teacher and eventually her father allowed her to continue her education. Yeshalem is now in a girls’ club that empowers girls to involve teachers and the police when they hear about threats of child marriage.

“We also have a secret box in our school where you can write down if somebody in the community is going to be married early – or cut – and we can report it, and try to stop it.”

Her Excellency Minister Tadesse said:

Her Excellency, Ms. Zenebu Tadesse in a panel at the Girl Summit.“Yeshalem’s story and the thousands like her, is what is powering Ethiopia’s efforts to change societal attitudes and behaviours towards girls in Ethiopia. At this Summit, we must make it our collective duty to support Yeshalem and girls like her around the world – because they are the ones who are creating lasting change.”

In Ethiopia, according to the 2011 Welfare Monitoring Survey (WMS) report, 23 per cent of female children aged 0 to 14 years had undergone female genital cutting at national level. The regional distribution of FGM/C varies highly from the lowest 7 per cent in Gambela region to the highest 60 percent in Afar region. Next to Afar region, Amhara and Somali regions have the highest percentage of FGM/C, which is 47 per cent and 31per cent respectively. As a result of the ongoing commitment of the Government, Ethiopia is witnessing a number of promising results that are galvanizing stakeholders to intensify their efforts: