New multi-country initiative will protect millions of girls from child marriage – UNICEF/UNFPA

Zewde Fentaw dances during her wedding ceremony in Shumshah kebele, Lasta Woreda
Zewde Fentaw dances during her wedding ceremony in Shumshah kebele, Lasta Woreda ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Bindra

NEW YORK/ADDIS ABABA, 8 March 2016 – A new multi-country initiative to accelerate action to end child marriage will help protect the rights of millions of the world’s most vulnerable girls, UNICEF and UNFPA said on International Women’s Day.

The UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage announced today will involve families, communities, governments and young people. This is part of a global effort to prevent girls from marrying too young and to support those already married as girls in 12 countries across Africa, Asia and the Middle East where child marriage rates are high.

“Choosing when and whom to marry is one of life’s most important decisions. Child marriage denies millions of girls this choice each year,” said Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. “As part of this global programme, we will work with governments of countries with a high prevalence of child marriage to uphold the rights of adolescent girls, so that girls can reach their potential and countries can attain their social and economic development goals.”

The new global programme will focus on five proven strategies, including increasing girls’ access to education, educating parents and communities on the dangers of child marriage, increasing economic support to families, and strengthening and enforcing laws that establish 18 as the minimum age of marriage.

“The world has awakened to the damage child marriage causes to individual girls, to their future children, and to their societies,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.  “This new global programme will help drive action to reach the girls at greatest risk – and help more girls and young women realize their right to dictate their own destinies. This is critical now because if current trends continue, the number of girls and women married as children will reach nearly 1 billion by 2030 – 1 billion childhoods lost, 1 billion futures blighted.” 

Child marriage is a violation of the rights of girls and women. Girls who are married as children are more likely to be out of school, suffer domestic violence, contract HIV/AIDS and die due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Child marriage also hurts economies and leads to intergenerational cycles of poverty.

The global community demonstrated strong commitment to end child marriage by including a target on eliminating it and other harmful practices in the Sustainable Development Goals. UNICEF and UNFPA call on governments and partner organizations to support the new Global Programme to help eliminate child marriage by 2030. 

The UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage is being supported by Canada, the European Union, Italy, Netherlands, and the UK.

Note to editors

In Ethiopia, two in every five girls is married before the age of 18 and this practice is prevalent across all the regions. According to the Ethiopian Demographic Health Survey (EDHS) 2011, 41 per cent of girls between the ages of 20 to 24 are married by age 18, compared to 7.3 per cent of boys. Similar source also indicates that 63 per cent of girls between the ages of 25-49 are married as compared to 13.55 of men. The median age at first marriage is 16.5 for women age 25–49 compared with men who marry later, at a median age of 23.2.

In terms of regional variation, the highest prevalence rate is in Amhara (44.8 per cent), followed by Tigray (34.1 per cent), Benishangul-Gumuz (31.9 per cent) and Addis Ababa at 32.3 per cent. From the 1997 baseline survey up to the follow up survey of 2008 of EGLDAM, the highest decline is observed in SNNP regional state where the prevalence rate declined from 18.7 per cent to 9.9 per cent and in Benishangul-Gumuz where it declined from 50.1 per cent to 31.9 per cent. Nationwide, the legal age of marriage is 18. However two regional states namely Afar and Somali have not yet promulgated their regional family laws in alignment with that of the federal level. Thus, by implication, the legal age of marriage in these two regions is still below 18 and customary law condoning child marriage prevails. 

The Government of Ethiopia has taken strategic and programmatic measures to eliminate child marriage. Some of the key actions include; endorsement of the National Strategy and Action Plan on Harmful Traditional Practices against Women and Children and communication strategy for social norm change and establishment of the National Alliance to End Child Marriage and FGM/C to coordinate and synergize national level efforts. Moreover, the Government has shown a ground-breaking commitment to end child marriage by 2025 at the London Girls’ Summit and reinforced by setting a target to reduce the practice to 0.5 per cent in the Growth and Transformation Plan II (GTP II).  

UNICEF is supporting the Government of Ethiopia in developing a roadmap which defines the long term strategic and programme interventions and the role of different actors, strengthening the National Alliance through supporting the establishment of functional secretariat, enriching the Ethiopian Demographic and Health Survey (EDHS) module to include better data and consensus building sessions with religious leaders in collaboration with UNFPA and other Alliance members.

 In addition, UNICEF is supporting the government of Ethiopia in implementing ending child marriage programmes in Amhara, Afar and Somali regions. Similarly, UNICEF and UNFPA have developed a joint programme to end child marriage based on the lessons learned from the successful implementation of the joint programme on the elimination of FGM/C. The key results of the joint programme include; enhancing girls’ capacity to better exercise their choice, changing the attitudes of families and communities to value investment in girls and enabling service providers to respond to the needs of adolescent girls. In addition, it focuses on ensuring alignment of existing legal and policy frameworks with international standards and allocation of adequate resource to strengthen the data management system.

Men to protect women from any form of violence says Aster Aweke

By Wossen Mulatu

11 September 2015: On Ethiopian New Year’s Eve, Aster Aweke, one of Ethiopia’s greatest music icon, and UNICEF National Ambassador to Ethiopia, delivered a strong message on girls’ and women empowerment to thousands of fans gathered at her concert in Ghion Hotel, Addis Ababa.

“My wish for the new year is for girls to succeed in their education and reach their full potential equally as boys,” said Aster during her performance. “All of you men have the responsibility to protect women from violence. Please do not standby and keep silent when you see women being abused and their rights violated because they are your mothers and your sisters and you should protect them!”

asterHer messages on girls’ empowerment comes at a right time when the Government of Ethiopia took a heroic step by making a ground-breaking commitment to end Harmful Traditional Practices (HTPs) including child, early and forced marriage and Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C) in the country by 2025. To this end, UNICEF and its partners are supporting the Government to improve the quality of lives of Ethiopian girls and women and, ultimately, to accelerate progress for the country at large. In addition, this feeds into the proposed Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls, as part of the Post-2015 development agenda.

Since her appointment as a national ambassador in 2010, Aster has supported different UNICEF activities and campaigns that benefit the women and children of Ethiopia by participating in high-level meetings and campaigns.

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

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.

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.

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.