By Wossen 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.
“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.
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.