ETHIOPIA: More parents saying no to FGM

Monday, September 15, 2008

Fewer Ethiopian parents are subjecting their daughters to female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM), according to an NGO campaigning to eradicate the practice.

"The knowledge [that FGM is harmful] is increasing," said Abate Gudunfa, head of the Ethiopian National Committee on Traditional Practices (commonly referred to as EGLDAM - its name in Amharic]. "Children born more recently are safer."

A network of 40 NGOs, including EGLDAM, the government and international organisations, are involved in anti-FGM campaigns in Ethiopia. Policies have also been reviewed to ensure participants are punished.

"Prevalence, especially among newly born children is decreasing - meaning that more families have sufficient awareness and do not support this practice anymore," Abate added.

A 2007 survey conducted by EGLDAM found that prevalence across the country had dropped from 61 percent in 1997 to 46 percent.

Nine regions including Tigray, the Southern and Oromiya as well as two city administrations namely the capital Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa, showed the highest improvement.

Other regions recorded minimal change. "There is almost no decrease in Afar and Somali [regions] - the strongholds of infibulation," the survey noted.

Assessing prevalence among various ethnic groups, EGLDAM found a decrease in almost all. Some 29 groups reflected a 20 percent decline, of which 18 were located in the Southern Region.

"Those ethnic groups ...should be considered real success areas and given due attention as possible learning sites," EGLDAM said. "Six ethnic groups show about or less than 10 percent decrease and should be considered as groups of probable major resistance to change."

These included the Harari, Shinasha, Alaba and Hadia ethnic groups.

Old tradition

Female circumcision is one of the 140 harmful traditions still commonly practised in Ethiopia. Often female circumcision involves the removal of part of the clitoris or the clitoris and all or some of the labia.

In some cases, genitalia are sewn up, leaving a small hole for urine and blood to pass. When combined with excision, this is the most severe form of FGM, according to experts.

In some communities, the girls are secluded for a month with their legs bound together to immobilise them, as they wait for the bleeding to stop and scar tissue to form.

FGM is carried out on girls as young as 80 days old, particularly in the predominately Christian highlands, and up to 14 years of age in the lowland Muslim regions. Some excisors use the same knife or razor blade on all their victims, regardless of the danger of spreading infections.

Globally, an estimated two million girls are still at risk of undergoing FGM each year. Activists say FGM is deeply entrenched in society despite various efforts to stop it.

According to the Inter-African Committee, the practice is a serious health issue affecting women, helping to spread HIV/AIDS and responsible for high female mortality rates in Africa.