Crown Princess of Denmark visites programmes supporting girls and women in Afar Region

Crown Princess Mary of Denmark and Danish Minister for Trade and Development Cooperation, Mr. Mogens Jensen sit for a community conversation on FGM/C & Child Marriage in Afar
Crown Princess Mary of Denmark and Danish Minister for Trade and Development Cooperation, Mr. Mogens Jensen sit for a community conversation on FGM/C & Child Marriage in Afar ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Mahonde

17 February 2015, Semera, Afar Region: A delegation led by Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark paid a one day visit to the Afar Region of Ethiopia to observe first-hand the implementation of the Joint Programme on eliminating female genital mutilation/ cutting (FGM/C) supported by UNFPA, United Nations Population Fund, and UNICEF, United Nations Children’s Fund as well as a programme on the prevention of child marriage. She was able to see efforts undertaken by community members regarding the abandonment of the two harmful practices and institutional responses at mitigating complications. Crown Princess Mary was accompanied by the Danish Minister for Trade and Development Cooperation, Mr. Mogens Jensen.

The Joint Programme addresses the issue of FGM/C not only because of its harmful impact on the reproductive and sexual health of women, but also because it violates women’s and girls’ fundamental human rights. This harmful practice has both immediate and long term consequences to the health and well-being of girls and women, negatively impacting maternal and neonatal health outcomes, and also increasing the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission. The practice often leaves girls with severe pain and trauma, shock, hemorrhage, sepsis, urine retention, ulceration of the genital region, and urinary infection, among other complications. Girls’ and women’s health, their empowerment, and the realization of their rights are negatively affected by FGM as well as the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals related to reducing child mortality, improving maternal health and combating HIV/AIDS.

In the Afar Region girls and women are subjected to the worst form of the practice – infibulation – usually at the ages of seven to nine. In some districts in Afar, this harmful traditional practice is even exercised within some days after the birth of the child. The rights-based approach affirms that well–being, bodily integrity and health are influenced by the way a human being is valued.

Crown Princess of Denmark is welcomed by an Afar girl during her visit to programmes supporting girls and women in Afar Region
Crown Princess of Denmark is welcomed by an Afar girl during her visit to programmes supporting girls and women in Afar Region, Ethiopia ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Mahonde

In the first leg of her visit, Crown Princess Mary met different community members at a locality in the Afambo District and observed community dialogues involving different sectors of the community on the abandonment of FGM/C and child marriage. In addition, she observed a discussion of adolescent girls’ club and interacted with the participants. This intervention which aims at integrating efforts at the abandonment of FGM/C and child marriage is under implementation for the past two years in seven localities in the Afambo District and is coordinated by the Bureau of Women, Children and Youth Affairs of the Afar Region. Woizero Zahara Humed, Head of the Bureau of Women, Children and Youth Affairs, provided the visitors with an overall briefing regarding the programme. Crown Princess Mary interacted with community members, especially women and girls, and appreciated the efforts being undertaken to abandon the harmful practices and empower girls and women.

The Ethiopian Demographic and Health Survey of 2011puts the median age at first marriage for the Afar Region as the third lowest in the country at age 16.5. Moreover, despite the progresses made in recent years, the prevalence of FGM/C remains very high in the Region. According to the 2011 Welfare Monitoring Survey the prevalence of FGM/C is highest in the Region at 60 per cent. But six districts in the Region in which the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on Accelerated Abandonment of FGM/C is being implemented have publicly declare abandonment of the practice since the initiative was launched in 2008.

For the second leg of her visit, Crown Princess Mary was taken to the Barbara May Maternity Hospital in Mille District, where she observed services being provided by the hospital at tackling complications resulting from FGM/C and child marriage, such as teenage pregnancy and childbirth. She was given a tour of the facilities of the hospital by Valerie Browning – Head of the Afar Pastoralist Development Association which is running the hospital – and the medical staff of the hospital. It was indicated during the visit that the hospital which has been operational since 2011 is providing life-saving delivery services and treating obstetric complications created by FGM/C. Crown Princess Mary also got the chance to interact with patients during her visit to the hospital.

Crown Princess Mary admired the commitment of the Afar Region in tackling FGM and child marriage when she met Awel Arba, Vice President of the Afar Region, later in the day. She appreciated the support being provided by UNFPA and UNICEF. The Vice President assured the Crown Princess that his Region was keen in continuing efforts at improving the lives of girls and women and remarked that his Region looked forward to support from Denmark.

During the Girl’s Summit held in London in June 2014, the Government of Ethiopia has committed to eliminate both FGM/C and child marriage by 2025.

The visit was jointly organized by the Embassy of Denmark, UNFPA, and UNICEF.

Girl’s Empowerment: the key to Ethiopia’s development

By: Dr Peter Salama, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia

 Julius Court, Acting Head of Office, DFID Ethiopia

As we rapidly approach the deadline of 2015 for reporting our progress against the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), it is already clear that Ethiopia will have much success to report and an inspiring story to tell. Indeed most of the MDG targets will be not only met, but surpassed by a good distance, well ahead of time.

The wedding day
Girls and women everywhere have the right to live free from violence and discrimination. Help end child, early and forced marriage in a generation. Picture: Jessica Lea/Department for International Development

And yet the median age of marriage for girls is still 16.5 years. Indeed it is no coincidence that those MDGs that have been lagging the furthest behind are those to do with women and girls: MDG three on women’s empowerment and MDG five on maternal mortality.

A study commissioned by Girl Hub Ethiopia, a UK Department for International Development (DFID) project, found that if every Ethiopian girl who drops out of school was instead able to finish her education it would add US$4 billion to the country’s economy over the course of her lifetime.

As the country approaches a period of demographic dividend, with fewer young dependents, it has a major opportunity to benefit from the kind of economic growth we saw from the Asian Tiger economies. As the evidence shows, in the context of the next Growth and Transformation Plan, it will be impossible for Ethiopia to continue its economic and development progress at the same rate without addressing the issue of girls’ and women’s rights head on.

Acknowledging this, the Government of Ethiopia is, of course, already taking bold steps. At the Girl Summit – jointly hosted by the UK government and UNICEF in London in July 2014 – H.E. Demeke Mekonnen, Deputy PM, made a ground-breaking commitment on behalf of the Government of Ethiopia to eradicate child, early and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) by 2025.

Much work has already gone into putting this commitment into action, but there are five areas that DFID and UNICEF believe are critical to any successful plan.

A girl student hard at work at Beseka ABE Center in in Fantale Woreda of Oromia State
A girl student hard at work at Beseka ABE Center in in Fantale Woreda of Oromia State ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ose

First, keeping girls in school, particularly through transition to secondary education and ensuring high quality basic education. At the same time, we need to ensure zero tolerance for violence within the school environment and ensure they have the right facilities for girls such as adequate sanitation.

In the Somali region of Ethiopia – where many aspects of gender inequality are particularly pronounced – DFID and UNICEF are jointly supporting a multi-sectoral Peace and Development Programme that will improve girls’ and women’s access to justice by establishing legal aid services and support services for female victims of violence.

Secondly, raising national rates of birth registration from the current level of less than 10 per cent to more than 90 per cent by 2020. Proof of age will assist in implementing and enforcing laws on child marriage and will also have positive knock-on effects on trafficking and illegal labour migration, for example. UNICEF supports the government of Ethiopia in establishing a vital event registration system (for births, deaths and marriages) in the country through technical and financial support. The support has allowed the enactment of a proclamation on vital events and the establishment of a national agency. Currently, regional laws are being adopted, regional bodies established, staff recruited and capacities developed.

Thirdly, changing social norms through an evidence-based, regional approach that is cognizant of and uses local languages and customs. DFID is supporting the Finote Hiwot project in Amhara to reduce child marriage through changing social norms and providing economic incentives for girls to stay in school.

‘Yegna’ concert in Akaki ©Rachael Canter Flickr

Fourthly, changing public perceptions through multi-media campaigns that highlight positive role models to enable girls’ and young women’s empowerment. For example, Girl Hub Ethiopia’s Yegna radio programme uses both male and female role models to influence attitudes and behaviours towards girls. It broadcasts to more than five million people in Addis Ababa and the Amhara region and early data shows that 63 per cent of listeners say the programme made them think differently about issues in girls’ lives such as child marriage and gender-based violence.

The Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs recently hosted a Girl Summit follow-up meeting to discuss how members of the National Alliance to End Child Marriage and the National FGM Network could help deliver the commitments Ethiopia made at the Summit. A 12-month communication campaign plan will be launched in the coming weeks.

Finally, contributing to the national, regional and global evidence and evaluation database is central to realising the commitment made at the Girl Summit. The National Alliance to End Child Marriage and the National FGM Network are improving data gathering and knowledge sharing and fostering innovation. We must ensure that relevant indicators on child marriage and FGM/C are included in next year’s Demographic Health Survey.

Of course there is a great deal to be optimistic about as we embark on this ambitious journey together. The Government of Ethiopia has demonstrated extraordinary commitment and we look for their future leadership by integrating girl issues into the GTP 2 and future sector policies.

We are confident that just as we do now in the social sector, in the future we will view Ethiopia as a model for delivering real change for girls and women.

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: