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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ethiopian FGM Radio Warnings Reach Nomadic Women

June 27, 2010
By Dominique Soguel - Women's eNews

 Nomadic girls in the Danakil Desert of Ethiopia often skip school to fetch and carry water. But in one settled pocket, girls are going to school and mothers in the past two years have begun heeding radio warnings on female genital mutilation.

DALLOL, Ethiopia (WOMENSENEWS)--The schoolmaster at Kursawat, a rural area in the Afar region of Ethiopia, is struggling to bring awareness of the benefits of girl education and the risks of female genital mutilation.

Ethiopia outlawed female genital mutilation in 2004 but the practice is deeply rooted and nearly universal in the Afar and Somali regions. In 2005 a government health survey found that 74 percent of girls and women nationwide had undergone the ritual cutting.

"Circumcision is still going on here," Schoolmaster Kadesang Fasile told Women's eNews. "Most of the Afar are nomads so they can't be reached through educational broadcasts."

The Afar is a collection of itinerant pastoralist tribes living in the Danakil Desert, in northeast Ethiopia, toward the border with Eritrea. Nicknamed "Hell on Earth," the desert claims the world record for the highest average annual temperature in an inhabited location: 94 F. Average annual rainfall is less than eight inches.

There are 500 nomadic households in Fasile's school district and families often relocate without regard to the school calendar. The school--the only cement structure in the area, more than one hour away from the nearest paved road--sees an annual dropout rate of between 20 and 30 percent. Mothers and fathers in the community, says Fasile, see a cultural threat in female education.

"If a woman is educated and succeeds, she will live for herself and that is not permitted," said Fasile. "Here the woman fetches water."

But harsh gender attitudes are starting to soften in other pockets of the Afar region.