By Kutloano Leshomo
ASMARA, Eritrea, 22 February 2010 – Letenkiel Misghina, a former practitioner of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), recently attended an all-day event commemorating the banning of the practice in Eritrea. The colourful procedings included speeches, poems, testimonies, information sessions, a marathon, a bicycle race and a carnival.
At the event, Ms. Misghina, 63, recounted the horror she experienced in 1993 when she was circumcizing her first granddaughter. The child bled so much that she turned pale blue. Fortunately, she survived, but it was a close call.
Ms. Misghina had learned how to perform female genital mutilation from her grandmother, who circumcised her first daughter. Ms. Misghina then performed the practice on her next five daughters. But after the scare with her granddaughter, she swore never again to perform FGM/C.
“We thought it was our ancestor’s beliefs, but it is just the devil’s work,” she said.
Three years on
In 2007, the Government of Eritrea passed a proclamation banning FGM/C. An intensive, multi-faceted advocacy and mobilization campaign ensued, aiming to change attitudes among different groups of society – including traditional birth attendants, circumcizers, community elders and religious leaders.
Speaking at the anniversary event, UNICEF Deputy Representative in Eritrea Juan Carlos Espinola Ayala called FGM/C a violation of human rights and, in particular, children’s rights. He implored everyone to stop the practice and congratulated the Eritrean Government for passing the proclamation banning it.
Despite the ban, much work is still needed to ensure the full elimination of FGM/C in Eritrea, where the practice is still seen by many as an important factor in attaining social acceptance and improving girls' marriage prospects.
Advocates for changeIn 2002, the Eritrean Demographic and Health Survey showed that 89 per cent of Eritrean women had been cut. This prevalence rate is among the highest on the African continent. In the survey, 42 per cent of women said the practice was beneficial for social acceptance; 25 per cent for marriage prospects; and 18 per cent for religious approval.
Since the ban, it appears that traditional birth attendants and circumcizers have increasingly dropped the practice and become advocates for change. UNICEF Eritrea’s goal is to attain a 30 per cent reduction in the practice of FGM/C by 2011.
The European Community, the Swedish Government and the Swiss National Committee forto UNICEF have contributed financial resources to facilitate the abandonment of this and other harmful traditional practices in Eritrea.
© UNICEF Eritrea/2010/Leshomo