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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Campaign Against Female Circumcision Intensifies in Ethiopia

February 18, 2011
Phillip Barea

Addis Ababa, February 18, 2011 ( -- In recent months local and national initiatives have shown a clear intensification of the struggle against the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), also known as female circumcision.

The ancient practice of removing the outer female genitalia and “sewing” the vaginal opening shut has long existed in the region under the pretext of cleanliness and religious piety.

After years of United Nations and international NGO advocacy, recent “homegrown” campaigns have signaled a local increase in the struggle to eliminate the practice in Ethiopia. For example, recent Ethiopian Television programs have targeted the practice by assembling both religious scholars and traditional leaders to advocate against FGM.

Afar Regional Action

 Most recently, two regions within Afar State have increased both the legal and social fight against this practice. Officials in Amibara and Awash-Fentale districts have outlawed female genital mutilation, and further expressed their concern that the practice causes serious health problems to women and is against their culture.

Fatuma Ali, Head of Women's Affairs for Amibara Distric, issued a statement saying that: “We are very happy to declare the abandonment of this horrible act on women…We would like to thank the elders, our community and all our partners [for their support]”.

She further added that their commitment does not end there, and: "This is like the rebirth of Afar pastoralist women…We will fight until we secure 100 percent abandonment of the practice from our region”.

External Policy Advocacy

Just this month, two United Nations officials issued statements advocating for the eradication of female genital mutilation. Anthony Lake, Director of the UN Children's Fund; and Babatunde Osotimehin, Director of the UN Population Fund, declared that: “the practice violates human rights and endangers the health of the women affected”.

European Union officials have also recently reinvigorated their advocacy against FGM. Catherine Ashton, who leads the EU´s foreign policy sector, told the press that FGM is an "exceptionally brutal crime"; and she confirmed her determination to advocate for its elimination in Africa.

Religion and Tradition

 Many advocates in favor of maintaining the practice in Ethiopia claim that it stems from their culture and their religion. This perspective is especially prevalent in the Afar and Somali communities. They claim that FGM is mandated by Islam; however, many Muslim scholars and leaders have disputed and rejected such a claim.

For example, in a recent television interview one Somali Sultan (traditional clan leader) from the Somali region of Ethiopia publicly declared that he believes FGM to be an unhealthy cultural practice, against Islam, and that it should be stopped.

Ethiopian Television also recently broadcast an anti-FGM show where religious scholars from the various religious communities in Ethiopia discussed the issue from a religious perspective and concluded that there is no religious mandate for the practice and that it is unacceptable.

Scholars and leaders in many Muslim states have also issued, or are preparing to issue, a Fatwa (Islamic legal ruling) against Female Genital Mutilation. Most recently, for example, Muslim scholars and leaders in Mauritania issued a fatwa against FGM.