Plan International is committed to ending Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), child marriage, and violence against girls in Ethiopia. The Children’s Welfare Project was launched in two areas of Ethiopia – Amhara and SNNPR – in 2012. At the beginning of 2015, the project expanded to cover Gambella and Oromiya. These case studies show how – over time – changes in community beliefs, attitudes, and practices are possible!
“I want to marry an uncut girl”
Alemayehu, 14, schoolboy
”I’m a member of a boys’ club supported by Plan International. We discuss harmful practices in our club meetings and we also spread the word to our friends.”
Before joining the club, Alemayehu didn’t know much about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), only that it was an accepted practice and could cause problems during child birth. One of his four older sisters had such a difficult delivery that she almost died.
“As I have spoken against FGM, my parents have started to listen to me and changed their minds. They have regretted what they did and promised that my fifth sister will not undergo FGM.”
“If I ever have a daughter, I will not allow FGM”
Matewos Kekebo, 26, farmer and teacher, Ethiopia
According to Matewos, ”Harmful practices used to thrive in our community a few years ago. Child marriages and female genital mutilation were not uncommon. The traditional circumciser would use a single razor blade to cut the clitoris and labia of five girls, one after the other. We did not know this increases the risk of HIV, or that FGM is one of the major reasons for complications in childbirth, as well as maternal and newborn deaths."
Five years ago, Matewos married a girl who had undergone FGM. He witnessed firsthand how painful menstruation and childbirths were for her. She gave birth to two sons.
After the second delivery, she had a uterus infection which, according to the doctor, was a consequence of FGM.
“Three years ago, Plan International launched a project in our community of 7,000 people. We put together a group and started coming up with ways of best spreading the word on harmful practices. We started speaking against FGM and child marriages at church services, coffee ceremonies, and so on.
“Initially, people were ashamed to talk about genital mutilation, but I persisted, because things need to be addressed with their proper names. We also invited traditional circumcisers to take part in the meetings and information sessions. A respected circumciser in our community understood that many women died and suffered as a result of what she did, and she started to speak up against FGM, too. Nowadays, there is no one in our community who would agree to perform FGM on girls. Young girls are proud to announce in front of people that they have not been cut. Some families continue to have their girls cut in other villages, but our area is free of this cruel tradition. The last incident of FGM took place over a year ago.
"If I ever have a daughter, I will not allow FGM. I just wish that the project would have come to our village earlier, so that my wife could have been spared from FGM.”
“My big sister died in childbirth at 21 – it was a consequence of FGM”
Birhanu, 15, schoolboy
”My big sister died during childbirth when she 21. The doctor said it was because of FGM. My sister underwent FGM as a teenager and was married at 16. Because of the FGM scars, the baby could not fit through and my sister suffered serious tears and bleeding. The baby did not make it either.
“That was when my parents decided they would not have FGM performed on my other sister, who was 12 at the time. I mourn my sister. I would not have lost her if the people in our village had been better informed about the harmful consequences of FGM. I’ve promised myself I will protect my surviving sister from FGM and being married too young.”
When Birhanu grows up, he wants to be a professor. “I will not marry until I have finished my education. I want an educated wife who is at least 20 years old.”
“If I had known the consequences of FGM, I would not have let it happen to my daughters” Abebe Dona, 45, village chief
When the Plan International project launched in Abebe’s village, he was against their traditions being questioned. But as the village chief, he had to take part in the discussions. “Very soon, I began to realise that many of our traditions – like FGM, child marriage, severe corporal punishment of children, and polygamy – are not good. I decided I want to become an example of attitude change,” he explained.
“My wife has had FGM and so have my two daughters. They have all had protracted and painful deliveries. I only realized at Plan International’s training that the [complications were] due to FGM."
Abebe goes on to say that is he had known the consequences of FGM, he would not have let it happen to his daughters.
“I am happy the project came to our village. Our community is doing better as a result.”
Girls miss school when they undergo FGM procedure. Afterwards they are absent a lot” Kebebe Muntasha, 38, headmaster
Kebebe’s school works in cooperation with Plan International by providing education on the dangers of FGM.
“I have supported the founding of the Uncut Girls’ Club at our school. The members of the club discuss FGM, early marriages, and other harmful practices. They spread the word in their own communities too. This has really made a difference. Many boys in our school have joined the effort and publicly announced that they will marry a girl who has not been cut.”
Kebebe’s community still regards girls as inferior to boys. But his dream is for the girls to rise up to the same level with boys, because he knows firsthand that they can do just as well in their studies.
“When I started to speaking out against FGM, people tried to silence me with claims that uncut girls will break things and run out to be with men. My response was always that those claims are superstitious and not based on fact. Then I would disclose some facts on how FGM causes complications in childbirth, for example.
“My 9-year-old daughter has not had FGM, and will not have it. Her goal is to be the Chair of the Uncut Girls’ Club.”