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

National Girl Summit to Reiterate Ethiopia’s Commitment to End FGM/C and Child Marriage

A Muslim girl prays at the mosque at the Semera Girl's Boarding School

Child Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting don’t just cause physical and emotional pain. The practices reflect the value of girls and women in society that have been passed from generation to generation. Such values in turn limit their contribution in society thereby sustaining the cycle of poverty.

The good news is that things are changing. In communities across Ethiopia more and more people are saying no to FGM/C, child marriage and other harmful traditional practices. But there is much more to do.

In July, 2014 at the Girl Summit in London, the Government of Ethiopia committed to achieving the total elimination of FGM/C and Child, Early and Forced Marriage by 2025 through a strategic, multi-sectorial, girl-centred and evidence-based approach.

On 25 June, 2015 the government of Ethiopia will host a National Girl Summit to reiterate its commitment. The summit will provide an opportunity for key actors including girls to renew their vow to end the practices through concerted actions. We can end FGM/C and child marriage within a generation – but only if we work together.

Let girls be girls!

During and around the summit, together with partners we will bring our messages to social media using #GirlSummit follow us and join the conversation.

Runaway Child Bride on a New Beginning

By Bethlehem Kiros

Girls socialize in their dorm rooms at the Semera Girl’s Boarding School
Girls socialize in their dorm rooms at the Semera Girl’s Boarding School, a school that serves as a safe haven for many girls that escape their home villages after being forced to marry at a young age, in Semera, Afar Region, Ethiopia, 8 January 2015. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Bindra

AFAR Region, 8 January 2015 – At the Semera Girls’ Boarding School, Zahara Abdu is granted a new lease on life. Three years ago, at the age of 13, she was forced to marry a man who is decades older than her. “I was his third wife, and he has children that are older than me,” says Zahara. Refusing to take others’ choice for her life, she chose to flee and, fortunately wound up at the boarding school where she is now attending the 7th grade.

Next to the Amhara region, Afar has the highest rate of child marriage in Ethiopia. One of the reasons for this is the availability of few schools especially after finishing the Alternative Basic Education (ABE) which runs from grade 1-4 in their locality which limits girls’ option and directly justifies early marriage as the only viable. This fact is well entwined with an aged Afari tradition known as absuma which entitles a man full right to marry his cousin, specifically the daughter of his paternal aunt. Zahara was promised to several cousins already, in the name of absuma, but none of them took advantage of this traditional practice. “They are all educated which is probably why they didn’t demand to marry me,’’ explains Zahara.

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures

However, this did not stop Zahara’s father from finding her another man. She was not aware of the arrangement until the last minute and was attending 4th grade in her local ABE. When she found out, she tried to reason with her father who only turned a deaf ear to her plea. Distraught and out of options, Zahara followed her instincts and ran away at the night of her wedding. She sought refuge among her friends where she learned about the possibility of escaping to the Semera Boarding School. “There are three girls in my neighborhood who go to the school and they told me that the administration welcomes girls who are in a situation like mine,’’ she recounts. “They also promised to take me with them when their school break ends.’’

After twenty-seven days of hiding, her family found her in one of her friend’s house and dragged her back to her husband’s village, where his other two wives and children also live. Regarding what happened next, she says, “I knew what would await me, so I ran away again that very night.’’ To minimize the risk of being caught again, this time, she chose to stay out in the wilderness, surviving on the food and water her friends brought her. In the meantime, her friends were secretly raising money from other girls in the village for her trip to Semera, the capital of the region. Zahara recalls that her older sisters, who were both married at the time, were also part of the plan of her escape.

A Safe Haven

Zahara Abdu, 17, poses for a photo in her dorm at the UNICEF-supported Semera Girl’s Boarding School
Zahara Abdu, 17, poses for a photo in her dorm at the UNICEF-supported Semera Girl’s Boarding School, a school that serves as a safe haven for many girls that escape their home villages after being forced to marry at a young age, in Semera, Afar Region, Ethiopia, 8 January 2015. Zahara escaped from her village after her forced Absuma marriage to her cousin. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Bindra

After quite an ordeal of sleeping in the open desert, Zahara joined her friends on their trip back to school. The school administration referred her case to the regional Bureau of Women, Children and Youth Affairs (BoWCYA) and a decision was reached immediately to admit her to the school. Zahara is among the several girls in Semera Boarding School who have run away from their coerced marriages, often to men that are significantly older than them. In order to make education accessible to orphan or vulnerable girls from remote pastoralist communities, the school was built in 2009 by the regional government with the support of UNICEF. It currently provides education from grades 5 through 8 and mainly enrolls graduates of ABE, which is the most common form of education in pastoralist communities of Ethiopia.

Zahara says that she went to the extent of defying her father’s will and putting herself through considerable hardship during her escape, because it was simply unthinkable for her to forgo her education. “I know my potential, and I can’t let anyone ruin the future which I believe I can have,’’ she declares. She adds that the school has become an ideal place for her to tap into that potential as she can focus entirely on her studies without worrying about marriage or household responsibilities. ‘’All we have to do here is maintain our personal hygiene and clean our rooms, which leaves us with ample time for our school work,’’ she explains. Consequently, Zahara managed to complete the 5th and 6th grades at the top of her class and hopes to maintain this status for the years to come.

Facing Social Denigration

Girls play at the Semera Girl’s Boarding School
Girls play at the Semera Girl’s Boarding School, a school that serves as a safe haven for many girls that escape their home villages after being forced to marry at a young age, in Semera, Afar Region, Ethiopia, 8 January 2015. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Bindra

In the last two and half years, Zahara visited her family twice, during her school breaks, and her relationship with them is now restored. On her first visit, she was accompanied by a BoWCYA representative who explained to her father about the importance of letting her go to school while gently laying out the legal repercussions for arranging underage marriage. “In the presence of the BoWCYA representative, my father gave his word that he will not force me to go back to my so-called husband,’’ states Zahara. Though she is safe, she fears that her younger sister who recently turned 13 might be given away soon. “My sister is really worried, so if it comes to that, I guess I’ll have to notify the authorities since my family does not listen to me,’’ she says with frustration. According to her, their society generally considers girls in her position – who defy social norms for the sake of education – as bad influences on other girls. “Uneducated people like my father just don’t see the worth of a girl’s education,’’ she complains. ‘’They belittle us saying that the reason we insist on going to school is to have the freedom to be with boys.’’

Zahara strongly believes that the only way she and her friends can gain the respect of their families and communities is if they prove themselves as successful adults. “I think if we finish school, get jobs and start giving back to them, they’ll start to recognize that we have something valuable to offer, besides giving birth to children,’’ she concludes.

Young people are important actors in ending child marriage in Africa

Theme of the Day of the African Child 2015: “25 Years after the Adoption of the African Children’s Charter: Accelerating our Collective Efforts to End Child Marriage in Africa”

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

NEW YORK/ADDIS ABABA, 16 June 2015 – Child marriage remains a brutal reality for millions of girls across Africa, denying them the right to live healthy and fulfilling lives. 

Poverty, lack of education, gender stereotyping, discrimination and negative religious practices have resulted in millions of these girls being married off before their 18th birthday.

In Ethiopia, Child Marriage of girls is prevalent throughout the country and is clearly a gender issue, given the considerable difference between men and women in age at marriage. According to the Ethiopian Demographic Health Survey (EDHS) of 2011, the median age at first marriage for women is 17.1, almost a year below the legal age of marriage, whereas the median for men was six years older, at 23.1. 

“Child Marriage affects girls in various ways and denies their right to fully develop their potential and be in charge of their destiny,” said Ms. Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia. “Hence, Ethiopia is heading in the right direction due to the concrete actions taken by the Government and its developments partners including the adoption of a national strategy on Harmful Traditional Practices, the formation of a national alliance to end child marriage, the strong commitments made by the government at the July 2014 Girls Summit in London to end child marriage and FGM/C by 2025.” 

Haimanot Gashu (center), 12, stands outside the Goha Primary School in Goha Kebele, Dera Woreda, Amhara Region, Ethiopia
Haimanot Gashu (center), 12, stands outside the Goha Primary School in Goha Kebele, Dera Woreda, Amhara Region, Ethiopia, 28 January 2015. Married at the age of seven, she is currently under a lot of pressure from her mother to move in with her husband, as she is now considered old enough to run her own home. She currently lives with her uncle and aunt. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Bindra

UNICEF in collaboration with other stakeholders is currently supporting the government of Ethiopia in meeting their commitments. UNICEF will continue to support the scale up of programmes and interventions which have proven to have a positive impact on girls and women empowerment.  The programmes will also ensure that the various interventions deliver concrete results for the girls through proper monitoring and evaluation systems.

The magnitude of violations occasioned in a single act of marrying off a child cannot be underestimated. In the worst of cases, a girl who becomes pregnant when her body is not yet ready may die at childbirth. Her baby may also not survive: a double tragedy. Infants born to adolescent mothers are 60 per cent more likely to die in their first year, and are more likely to be malnourished.

 “We cannot downplay or neglect the harmful practice of child marriage, as it has long term and devastating effects on these girls whose health is at risk and at worst leading to death due to child birth and other complications,” said Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission.

 The African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa encourages governments across the continent to set the minimum age of marriage at 18 years. The Campaign also focuses on strengthening families and communities to protect their children, and ensuring they have access to key information and services of quality.

The Day of the African Child (DAC) will serve to shine a brighter spotlight on the contribution that young people are making to accelerate the movement towards ending child marriage at multiple levels. From young reporters who publish stories on child marriage, to young people who speak at international fora, to those who take part in discussions with their families, their peers and their communities about the benefits of delaying marriage and pregnancies and in action to end the practice – they are important agents of change. Their role can be further enhanced through the provision of life skills, quality education and training.

This year’s DAC will be 25 years since it was first marked, and will focus on ending child marriage in Africa. While the DAC commemorations are held on 16 June each year across countries in Africa, the official continental commemoration will take place in Soweto, South Africa, on 15 June 2015. 

The DAC also coincides with the twenty-fifth anniversary of the adoption of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC), and an opportunity to reinforce the commitment by African governments to children’s rights, while examining the main achievements and challenges in the implementation of the ACRWC.

Hundreds of children from South Africa will be joined in Soweto by others from across Africa, to commemorate the DAC and further urge the African leadership to do more for children, especially in ending child marriage.

Blissless Matrimony

By Bethlehem Kiros

GOHA, AMHARA REGION-  For Serkadis Hunachew, her wedding, instead of a happy, blissful day,  was an utter source of anguish, an untimely and forced rite of passage. “I was crying when people were dancing and celebrating,’’ says the 13- year-old regarding her wedding ceremony that took place two years ago.

According to Serkadis, her tears were preceded by shock as she was completely unaware that she was about to be married until the very morning of the ceremony when they were dressing her for the occasion. To her, marriage meant tragedy as it would not only loot her of her childhood but also shatter her dream of finishing school and making something of herself. At first, she contemplated running away but later decided to stay in order to spare her parents the embarrassment. She says that the only comfort she had at the time was the possibility that the marriage could be annulled after the ceremony.

AMHARA_274_IMG_0662, Bindra
Serkadis Hunachew, 13, (left) is one of the thirteen children of a destitute farmer who gave her away in marriage, mainly to relieve himself from the responsibility of providing for her. Haimanot Gashu (right), 12, sits in a classroom with Serkadis where they are in 6th grade at Goha Primary School in Goha Kebele (sub-district)

As the day advanced and guests flocked to their house, the celebration and dancing escalated but Serkadis’ gloomy mood did not change: a situation that annoyed her father. “He hit me because I couldn’t stop crying,’’ she recounts. When a wedding day ends, the custom is for the groom to take his bride at the back of a mule to his own parent’s house but Serkadis, still very upset, refused to ride with him. “I rode with another boy from my village all the way to Ambessame,’’ she explains. Ambessame is the nearest rural town to her village and the seat of the Dera woreda (district) administration.

Though the wedding officially renders her married, it was not expected of her to commence her wifely duties, as the arrangement was to keep her under the custody of her parents until she is considered fit to run her own home. Hence, after she spent five days with her husband’s family, sharing a bed with his sisters, she returned back to her village, Goha upon the request of her parents.

The Ethiopian constitution clearly stipulates that in all actions concerning children, the best interest of the child should always take precedence. Moreover, the government has ratified international conventions that stand for the protection of the rights of children and various governmental and non-governmental organizations are working to support the abandonment practices such as child marriage that are clearly against the best interest of children. Yet, Ethiopia remains to have one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. At the forefront, is the Amhara regional state where almost half of the female children are said to be married before they reach 18, although the regional government has adopted the federal family code that criminalizes marriage before the age of 18.

Poverty, which is the primary challenge of the region, is said to be one of the main driving factors for child marriage. Serkadis’ parents are also admittedly unable to provide for her due to their poor means of survival. “They told me that their main reason for marrying me off is their inability to send me to school anymore,’’ she says. When her parents say they cannot afford to send her to school, they are referring to the school materials, mainly notebooks that they are only expected to purchase a few times a year, (not school fees, as government schools are tuition free).

Second to the last of 13 children, Serkadis states that her family lives in extreme poverty that worsened after a large part of their land was apportioned among her brothers who have started their own families. “My parents have not bought clothes for me for a while and it is my teachers that even buy soap for me,’’ she says.

When she got back home after her honeymoon and they broke the news to her that she would not be going to school, her response was, “If I have to, I’ll move to the city, work as a house maid and earn my own income to go to school.” However, she might not need to go to that extent as one of her brothers, who recently heard about her marriage, invited her to live with him in Bahirdar city where she can go to school while helping him in his shop.

AMHARA_275_IMG_0685
Haimanot Gashu (center), 12, stands outside the Goha Primary School in Goha Kebele, Dera Woreda, Amhara Region, Ethiopia, 28 January 2015. Married at the age of seven, she is currently under a lot of pressure from her mother to move in with her husband, as she is now considered old enough to run her own home. She currently lives with her uncle and aunt.

Serkadis is considering taking her brothers offer since her father has informed her that she will move in with her husband at the end of the year. Despite the continued pressure from her family, Serkadis persists with her decision to take no part in the arrangement. According to her, she is so detached to the whole idea that she did not even make an effort to know the name of her husband. “What good would it do for me to know his name? I don’t want anything to do with him,’’ she firmly states.

Due to the wedding and the ensuing arguments with her father, Serkadis had to quit school during the year of the wedding but she managed to repeat the 5th grade last year and is now at the 6th grade. Before her father pulls her out of school again, she is planning to go to her school headmaster and ask for her school transcript so that she can go to Bahirdar with her sister who recently came for a visit after many years. “My sister was very angry at my father for what he did so she told me that she will take me with her to Bahirdar if I get my report card this week,’’ she explains. Once in Bahirdar, Serkadis will then decide whether she will stay with her sister or brother.

Her only reservation is leaving her mother behind. “My mother has heart problems, and it is me who always looks after her and the house when she gets sick,’’ she says. “But if they are planning to send me to my husband soon, I might as well go to Bahirdar where I can have a better future.’’

How can we redefine the world’s view to make the case for protecting girls?

My reflections on the Girl Summit, July 2014 
By Hannah Godefa, UNICEF National Ambassador to Ethiopia 

Hannah Godefa, UNICEF National Ambassador for Ethiopia, speaking at Girl Summit 2014
Hannah Godefa, UNICEF National Ambassador to Ethiopia, speaking at Girl Summit 2014 ©Marisol Grandon/DFID

The Girl Summit was a forum designed and hosted by the UK Government and UNICEF, to mobilize all world efforts to end female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and end child, early and forced marriage in my generation. It openly discussed issues of gender inequity and disparity and challenged public and non-profit sector leaders to create innovative solutions and commitments at the Summit. Closing this event was a surreal experience, and an absolute honour. When representing any demographic, there is a certain amount of responsibility to present the absolute truth of the issue. In this particular event, I had the incredible opportunity to echo the voices of the many girls around the world taking action in response to the calls to end the endless challenges for girls in education, health and the community, which further perpetuated harmful traditional practices. #Youthforchange hosted by UK Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening and Home Secretary Theresa May exemplified that spirit of change by having a youth-focused audience and engaging programmes. Important strategies such as school outreach were discussed, including a competition honouring schools that creatively used media as a method of presenting these vital issues.

It was then up to the many public leaders at the Girl Summit to respond. We heard from UK Prime Minister David Cameron, girl activists like Malala Yousafzai and various NGO’s to answer questions on financing for girls, ensuring equal access to education, and protection from FGM/C and child marriage. There were also discussions with likes of Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF and Deputy Minister of Ethiopia- H.E Ato Demeke Mekonnen. All who participated in the discussion recognized protecting girls was not only the right thing to do, but critical to our global future. Ending off the day in the closing plenary allowed me to re-state the importance for girl involvement and engagement in these discussions, to ensure girl voices are represented around the world.

Hannah Godefa, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, speaking at  Youth For Change
Hannah Godefa, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, speaking at Youth For Change ©Russell Watkins/DFID

As we all know, discussions among the public and private leaders are not enough. When we have the opportunity to make a difference anywhere, we should seize it, however special attention should be given to the issues girls face, as they are the foundation of our future. It is all in the facts: empowered and protected girls are able to form their families and communities and better contribute to our world socially and economically. The dialogue exercised at the Girl Summit cannot end there. It must manifest into commitments, be implemented into action and support this movement of rising girls around the world. Only then will we start to see a change in the way the world values girls. Girls are the mothers, community leaders and advocates of today. It all starts with a promise to champion for girls everywhere. If the way we view ourselves shapes our future, and our perspective influences how we invest our resources, the most important question is: how can we redefine the world’s view to make the case for protecting girls?

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.