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Monday, November 15, 2010

An End to FGM: Afar Districts' Success Story

November 15, 2010
The Reporter
Yelibenwork Ayele

The Amibara district in the Afar Regional State declared the abandonment of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Thursday at a ceremony held to mark the occasion at the town of Werer.
Awash Fentale, a neighboring district, is scheduled to make a similar declaration today.

In Afar region, women have traditionally been subjected to the most severe form of the practice – infibulations - usually between the ages of seven and nine.

FGM as practiced in the Afar Regional State results in birth complication, problems of the renal system and even death. The Afar used to believe that their religion demanded the circumcision of girls and that was why they adhered to the practice for centuries, residents of Werer said. However, now that they had unlearned the misconception, they would never expose their daughters to the knife of genital cutting, they said.

“We now understand that we ignorantly lost thousands of our girls and women due to circumcision, but we don’t want that to go on unchecked,” Ibrahim Musa, a resident of Werer said.

The change in the attitude of the districts’ residents was the result of continuous community conversations facilitated by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and UNICEF in collaboration with the regional government and local officials.

“We all know that when a piece of flesh is sliced off the genital area of a girl it hurts and causes copious bleeding but it had not occurred to us that that was the cause of the troubles and deaths of most of the women among us,” Fatuma Ayuma, a twenty-eight year old and mother of two girls said. She said that none of her two daughters was subjected to FGM and they never would be as long as she lived.

According to Fatuma, the effort of stopping FGM is still facing challenges in rural areas that are far away from the districts and where follow-up activities are not done. She said that in addition local religious leaders were urging the people to reject the idea of abandoning FGM.

Ethiopia is one of the 17 countries in Africa benefiting from the Joint UNFPA/UNICEF Program. The Joint Program aims to accelerate the abandonment of FGM by expanding existing efforts and to declare at least one country FGM free by 2012.

Afar region ranks second in the prevalence of FGM in Ethiopia (after Somali Region) with a prevalence rate of 92 per cent, according to the 2005 Demographic and Health Survey.

A number of initiatives have been undertaken to upgrade awareness and put in place structures for the abandonment of FGM in the intervention districts of the Joint Program. A Consensus Building Conference was held in Zone 3 of Afar Region last year among regional, district, and sub-district government and administration officials who unanimously agreed to promote community dialogue in their respective communities on the abandonment of FGM. They pledged to play an exemplary role in their community by not circumcising their own children and agreed to introduce and enforce the anti-FGM legislation after the communities reached a consensus on abandonment.

Anti-FGM committees were set up at the sub-district level comprising the clan leader, a community elder, former circumcisers, and the Kadi, a local judge. Anti-FGM village committees were also set up composed of two former circumcisers, a village elder, clan leader, and the religious leader in the community to teach the community on the consequences of FGM and report cases when they see evidence of it.

Uncircumcised and newborn girls are being registered, a record which serves as a follow-up mechanism to protect them. The registers are reported on a quarterly basis. Recent figures show that the number of uncircumcised girls in the six intervention districts of the Joint Program has reached 4,000. This is unprecedented in the region.

“With today’s public declaration of the abandonment of female genital mutilation or cutting, a new chapter opens for girls of Amibara District,” Tabeyin Gedlu, UNICEF Project Specialist, said. “Following an intense process of dialogue and discussion, the entire community has rallied to say no more to the ancient practice that has caused so much pain and suffering for countless generations of women. A new era is dawning for these communities and we urge vigilance in the days and months ahead to make sure that these hard earned commitments are not compromised.”