Women Activists in Ethiopia Are Fighting to Eradicate the Dangerous Practice of Female Genital Mutilation

These women are shifting cultural norms through grassroots action, and changing the future for women and girls in their communities for the better.

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Mar 9 2018, 6:00pm

Like most women in Ethiopia’s northeastern region of Afar, Zahra Humed Ali underwent female circumcision --just days after Zahra was born her genitals were cut as part of a deeply rooted cultural tradition that has been practiced in her community for centuries. But when Zahra was faced with the decision to carry on the tradition and cut her own infant daughter she refused, even though she was met with pushback from her family and community.

Female genital mutilation (FGM), which involves removing or injuring parts of the female genitalia for non-medical reasons, is often considered a social norm in patriarchal societies where sex and women’s sexuality are taboo. It can vary from the shaving of the clitoris to the removal of the labia and the sewing of the vagina. More than 135 million women have experienced FGM globally. Pervasive occurrences of FGM are still reported in more than 20 African countries, and is found in some countries in Asia, the Middle East and in diaspora populations in Europe and North America.

Although FGM was outlawed in Ethiopia in 2005, Afar has one of the highest rates of FGM due to the rural farming communities’ limited access to education and an adherence to a tightly knit patriarchal clan structure.

The physical and psychological effects of FGM can vary from bleeding, loss of bladder control, painful intercourse, pregnancy complications and in some instances death. It is widely recognized as a human rights violation and a harmful tradition that undermines the UN Sustainable Development Goals -- 17 encompassing objectives meant to address the world's most pressing health, educational, social and economic issues by 2030. Yet FGM is on the decline worldwide thanks to a combined effort of governmental and, international and national organizations, and, most importantly, local grassroots initiatives.

Zahra Humed Ali has turned her experience into action, and leads her region in efforts to eradicate female genital mutilation in her role as the Afar regional Director of the Bureau for Women and Children’s Affairs.

In the video above, Ethiopian UNICEF Youth Ambassador Hannah Godefa travelled to the remote village of Afambo, in Ethiopia’s Afar region to meet with local community leaders and women leading community conversations.

The Bureau for Women and Children’s Affairs in Afar is part of a larger effort to end FGM, and you can help. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) jointly with UNICEF leads the largest global program to accelerate the abandonment of FGM. In countries where UNFPA and UNICEF are present, like Ethiopia, girls are one-third less likely to undergo the practice than they were in 1997. A combination of education and female empowerment that will make the end of FGM achievable.

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