The Teenage Parliamentarian

By Bethlehem Kiros

Ubah Jemal, 15, makes a call before a meeting of the Girls Club in Jigjiga, Somali Region, Ethiopia
Ubah Jemal, 15, makes a call before a meeting of the Girls Club in Jigjiga, Somali Region, Ethiopia, 24 January 2015. Ubah is the vice president of the Somali Region Children’s Parliament, a position that enabled her to engage and empower girls in Jigjiga town, where she lives. In addition to heading the Girls Club in her own high school, she is responsible for setting up similar clubs in all the primary schools of her town. Ubah wants to pursue the field of medicine while continuing to serve in leadership position. “I want to become a doctor because it grants the opportunity to touch peoples’ lives directly, but ultimately, I want to become a leader, preferably a president,” she says. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Bindra

SOMALI REGION, 24 January 2014 – “Dreams won’t cost you a thing, so dream,’’ cheerfully exclaimed Ubah Jemal, as she concluded delivering one of her weekly pep talks to the Girls Club members from all the primary schools in Jigjiga town, the capital of the Somali region. A 12th grader at the Jigjiga Senior Secondary and Preparatory School, 15 years old Ubah is well known among female primary and high school students in Jigjiga for her inspirational speeches and her ability to organise and lead. Even at her childhood, she was made to skip third and fourth grade because of her intelligence. Spotted first by the Regional government officials while presenting a speech as a representative of her School Parliament, Ubah was often invited to attend meetings that were organised by the Regional Bureau of Women, Children and Youth Affairs (BOWCYA). Then three years ago, upon the formation of the Somali Region Children’s Parliament, she was elected as vice president, acquiring a role that enabled her to spread her wings beyond her own high school. As part of the global initiative to promote the rights and roles of children in the society, children parliaments are formed in each of the nine regional states and the two city administrations in Ethiopia. Picked from various schools across the nation, Ubah and her fellow appointees serve as mouthpieces of all under 18 children throughout the country.

Leadership with results

Ubah Jemal, 15, applies makeup before a meeting of the Girls Club in Jigjiga Right after she assumed her position as vice-president, she was given the role to head the Girls Club in her school that was established that same year, when she was at the 9th grade. The club absorbed other existing clubs like the anti FGM (Female genital mutilation) to address more issues of girls in the region, including FGM. “We wanted it to be a safe place where we can talk freely about all our issues as girls and learn from each other,’’ says Ubah. Besides offering the opportunity of growth through continued discussions, Ubah and her group mates opted for practical ways to help girls, after she had an eye-opening encounter with a classmate. “A girl who was sitting next to me was very stressed because her period suddenly came and she couldn’t leave the room fearing that the teacher and the students will see her cloth,’’ she recalls, ‘’and she was also very hesitant to tell me because apparently, it is a taboo to talk about such things.’’ She adds that an idea came to her right there to create a space in school where girls can access the proper sanitation materials, clean and freshen up, and even take painkiller pills and nap if they feel sick. Consequently, the Girls Club called a meeting of all female students in the school to raise money, and eventually made this idea a reality. “Once they saw that we made it possible, BOWCYA started supporting us and now UNICEF provides the sanitation supplies regularly,’’ says Ubah.

She believes that the availability of the girls’ room has contributed to an increase in attendance of girl students, since some girls have the tendency of not showing up to school, sometimes for a whole week, during their menstruation period due to their inability to afford sanitation pads or painful cramps. According to a study conducted by Water Aid, 51 per cent of girls in Ethiopia miss up to four school days every month and 39 per cent show reduced performance, when they are on their periods. The severe cramps are especially common among girls who went through Pharaonic circumcision. Dubbed as the most severe form of FGM, Pharaonic circumcision–which refers to the removal of all external genitalia and then the sewing of the remaining parts of outer lips, only leaving a small whole for urine and menstrual flow–-was highly prevalent in the Somali region until its decrease in the last five years through the organised efforts of the local community, religious leaders and the government.

Passing the torch

A member of a high school Girls Club waits by the door for their meeting to start in Jigjiga After making sure that the same model of Girls’ Club is duplicated in the only other high school in Jigjiga town, Ubah spearheaded the formation of Girl Clubs in elementary schools. “I thought it would be beneficial if younger girls also got the chance to organise so I approached the BoWCYA head who regarded it as a great idea,’’ she recounts. In less than a week, Ubah met with the principals of all the four primary schools in Jigjiga town and established four Girl Clubs, each with 30 members. She now meets with them on weekly basis where they get to report and plan their activities, while receiving constant encouragement from her.

According to Ubah, the girls keep watchful eye in their communities and offer assistance when they are needed. So far, they have stopped planned circumcisions, supported indigent children with school materials, and even found foster parents for few orphaned students. Ubah is confident that there will be many girls who are now empowered enough to take over her responsibilities when she goes to university, which is in less than eight months. Her plan is to study medicine either at the Addis Ababa University or go abroad, if she gets a scholarship. “I want to become a doctor because it grants the opportunity to touch peoples’ lives directly, but ultimately, I want to become a leader, preferably a president,’’ she laughs. “Who can charge me from dreaming?’’

Ethiopia boosts its efforts to end child marriage and FGM/C by 2025 at the National Girl Summit 

By Wossen Mulatu

National girl summit 2015
Participants of national girl summit 2015 at Sheraton Addis on 25 June 2015. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Ayene

25 June 2015, Addis Ababa: Today, the Government of Ethiopia reiterated its commitment to put an end to child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) at the National Girl Summit held for the first time in its capital. The Summit was held as a follow up to the Girl Summit in London held in July 2014 where the Government of Ethiopia took a heroic step by making a ground breaking commitment to end child, early and forced marriage and FGM/C in the country by 2025.

The historic National Summit in Ethiopia was officially opened by H.E. Ato Demeke Mekonnen, Deputy Prime Minister in the presence of H.E W/ro Zenebu Tadesse, Minister of Women Children and Youth Affairs with over two hundred partners drawn from Sector Ministries of Justice, Health, Education and Finance and Economic Development, UN representatives, representatives of religious council, development partners, civil societies, the private sector, members of the media and nine adolescent girls as guests of honour.

National girl summit 2015
H.E. Demeke Mekonnen Deputy Prime Minister of Ethiopia gives opening speech and officially launches National Girl Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Ayene

“We all have an obligation to fight and eliminate harmful traditional practices that are violating the rights of girls who will take over as the future leaders,” said H.E Ato Demeke Mekonnen. “If we are expecting good results and a lasting change to tackle these issues ones and for all, we need to work in a coordinated manner and there has to be accountability. I would like to reaffirm that the Government is on top of the agenda to eliminate early marriage and FGM/C and to build a harmful traditional practice (HTP) free country by working together with all partners.”

The Government of Ethiopia has formulated policies and legal and strategic frameworks to establish an environment whereby all citizens, regardless of gender, should have the right to determine his or her own future. However, harmful traditional practices (HTPs) such as child marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) are still commonly practiced in the country, due to deeply entrenched traditional norms and values that degrades the lives of girls and women.

According to the Demographic Health Survey (DHS), the national prevalence of child marriage declined from 33.1 per cent in 1997 to 21.4 per cent in 2009/10 and among children aged 0-15 declined to 8 percent in 2011.As to FGM/C, the national prevalence rate was 74 per cent in 2005, 56 per cent in 2008 and 46 per cent in 2010. Among children aged 0-14 years, 52 per cent in 2000, 37.7 per cent in 2010 and 23 per cent in 2011 which shows a consistent decline.

H.E. Minister Zenebu on her part said that the Ministry of Women Children and Youth Affairs will continue to work closely and jointly with its sector Ministries and partners to support all the efforts on the ground including community conversations and also reinforcing the laws associated with harmful traditional practices.

On her keynote address, Gillian Mellshop, Acting UN Resident Coordinator and Representative to UNICEF Ethiopia said that Ethiopia has made significant progress in developing polices and strategies as well as in building the capacity of individuals and institutions to tackle those two harmful practices. She stated, “Now it is our turn as the UN in Ethiopia to maintain the momentum and pledge our support to translate the commitment into concrete action for girls. Let us use this occasion to recommit ourselves to empowering adolescent girls through strategies, interventions and partnerships that deliver results so we can jointly end child marriage and FGM/C by 2025 or sooner.”

Let Girls Be Girls“Female circumcision is neither in the Bible nor in the Koran and it should not be associated with any religion. How could one try to cut and harm a human body that has been created as complete?” exclaimed Dr. Aba Hailegabriel Meleku, Representative of the Inter Religious Council. “Our council condemns both child marriage and FGM and we hope there will be a platform to have one voice at the federal level to eliminate both evil acts.”

At the Summit, adolescent girls’ messages were geared towards the need for more support from religious leaders and law enforcement bodies; more schools for more girls to be educated; education on reproductive health; and above all the support from boys and young men to change their attitude towards harmful traditional practices.

Dr. Kestebirhan Admassu, Minister of Health said, “We should empower, educate and protect girls. Ethiopia’s Health Extension Workers are a great example to the rural girls and women to inspire them pursue their education and give back to their communities. ”

The Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs establishes a national HTP Platform in order to realise the multi-sectoral mechanisms and to ensure effective coordination and collaboration between and among different development partners involved in the fight against HTPs. This National Implementation and Monitoring Platform is established from representatives drawn from relevant stakeholders (Government line ministries, multilateral and bilateral donors, CSOs, women and youth associations and national federations, faith based organisations, and national associations) working towards the prevention and elimination of HTPs.

Finally, the event was made colourful through the viewing of a rap song entitled, “Yalemachin Get” by young rap star- Abelone Melesse, UNICEF Ethiopia National Ambassador. The song sends a powerful message on children’s rights and making the world a better place for girls by educating, protecting and not turning our back on them as they need all our support.

Moreover, an exhibition was part of the summit where local and international NGOs, CSOs and the UN working on the themes of child marriage and FGM/C showcased their work through print and electronic media.

Photos, videos and other resources can be found here

Empowering Girls – Empowering Humanity: Picture It!

As part of the Guardian interactive article for the 25th anniversary of UN convention on the rights of the child, we asked children across the country what rights were most important to them. Presented with a child-friendly version of the convention, this is what they had to say.

For the International Women’s Day celebration we selectively pictured the girls.

 Interactive Gallery, click on each image to enlarge and read story. 

 

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.

IMG_2896
‘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.