AWARENESS CAMPAIGN AT THE PROJECT-E HOSPITALITY INSTITUTE
In Ethiopia 65% of women aged 15-49 have experienced Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), these are two in three women. The prevalence of FGM is highest in the east regions of Ethiopia, Somali and Afar, with 90-99% of circumcised women. And even in the capital Addis Ababa an estimated 55% of women are genitally mutilated.
The Ethiopian government officially criminalised the practice more than a decade ago and, according to UNICEF, the nationwide prevalence of FGM in Ethiopia declined from 74% in 2005 to 65% in 2017. Thus, there is a small decrease evident but despite official banns more than half of the women in Ethiopia are still being affected by FGM*. The reasons behind the legitimating of FGM in many communities are various: E.g. psychosexual reasons, according to which FGM is practiced as an instrument to exercise control over women’s sexuality and ensure virginity before marriage. Often FGM is considered as a major condition for the right of a women to get married. Furthermore, reasons of cultural heritage which are often underpinned by superstitious or certain religiously based beliefs are in place. In some communities FGM is practiced as a mean of improving aesthetical appearance**. But how can a country achieve its full economic and social potential if the majority of its female population is held back by FGM – an expression of extreme gender inequality, discrimination and violence against women?
Misikir Gebeyu, the Youth Advisor at Marie Stopes Ethiopia and one of our guest lecturer during the awareness trainings points out that breaking deep rooted cultural barriers remains a big challenge and FGM issues “cannot be solved by the efforts of the government alone unless organisations, like PROJECT-E, are involved”. We believe, therefore, in the collective responsibility of the Ethiopian civil society to work towards ending FGM and spreading awareness in the local communities in order to protect girls and women from this harmful practice in the future. Over a period of two weeks, we conducted awareness trainings with the students at the PEHI – aiming to educate the students about the reasons behind the FGM practice, its physical and psychical health damages, the legal situation and policy programs in place related to FGM as well as possible prevention strategies.
The Ethiopian government launched a national Harmful Traditional Practices (HTPs) strategy in which they are striving for more educational work around FGM by the community-based and faith-based organisations as they are playing a key role in mobilising communities against HTPs***. The students at PEHI assess these governmental approaches as an essential step and state that “the government is beginning to realise that our country is losing so many women who can do lots of things and bring about change in their community. In order for the country to develop to its maximum potential women need to be healthy and can’t die from FGM, but rather be equal participants in the process of development”.
Nonetheless, due to the shame that is often associated with FGM, there exists an unwillingness of confrontation at the community level and FGM related practices often remain in ignorance, as the PE Social Worker Lemlem explains: “FGM is a very sensitive and often taboo topic to speak about. But the culture of silence around FGM is a big problem in the Ethiopian society and as long as people won’t speak about this violent practice, laws and policy alone won’t end it. That’s why we want our students to break the silence on FGM and encourage them to lead discussions in their communities and at home in order to move towards the end of FGM”.
It becomes clear that despite a stronger enforcement of laws and governmental policy programs on FGM prohibition, a cultural reform through communication is needed. More intense preventive approaches should be pursued through awareness trainings and education in local schools and colleges in order to inform about the medical aspects and damaging health consequences of FGM. Moreover, there need to be frequent discussions on the local level about the consequences of FGM and specifically religious or elder leaders who are holding the main decision power in the communities need to be faced. Nevertheless, all actors “have to jointly struggle FGM until it is solved at the community level and the community awareness is raised”, says Misikir Gebeyu.
This being said, one student shared her message with us after the awareness training at the PEHI: “I want to tell the people around me and especially religious fathers how harmful FGM is for girls’ lives and that it is leading to many deaths. Girls these days can be our country leaders, they are needed around the world and can’t die from FMG. So don’t remain silent but discuss FGM openly! We have to unstick the taboo, break the violence and spread the word to all women in our families and social circles that FGM needs to stop!”
*28 Too Many (2018): Ethiopia: The Law and FGM, URL https://www.28toomany.org/static/media/uploads/Law%20Reports ethiopia_law_report_(july_2018).pdf. Central Statistical Agency (CSA) [Ethiopia] and ICF (2016): Ethiopia Demographic and Health Survey 2016, Chapter 16 FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION/CUTTING, URL https://www.dhsprogram.com/pubs/pdf/FR328/FR328.pdf.
**UNFPA (2018): Female genital mutilation (FGM) frequently asked questions, URL https://www.unfpa.org/resources/female-genital-mutilation-fgm-frequently-asked-questions.
***Central Statistical Agency (CSA) [Ethiopia] and ICF (2016): Ethiopia Demographic and Health Survey 2016, Chapter 16 FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION/CUTTING, URL https://www.dhsprogram.com/pubs/pdf/FR328/FR328.pdf.