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Eritrea, 18 June 2015: Making the practise of FGM/C a thing of the past

© UNICEF Eritrea/2015/Thompson
Fatma (left), community member of Ghindae and Fatna (right), FGM Committee member discuss FGM/C abandonment in their sub-zoba.

By Charlene Thompson

GHINDAE, Eritrea, 18 June 2015 – Fatna, Fatma and Regat are three women who have many things in common. They reside in the community of Ghindae, Northern Red Sea Region; proudly talk about their children and are all committed to end the practise of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in their communities. They gather in the small Ghindae sub-zoba office to share their stories.

Fatna Muhammed Ali is a FGM/C Committee member in Ghindae. Fatma Yusuf and Regat Tekgeste are Ghindae community members who both made the decision not to cut their daughters and now share their experiences with others in the hope that more women will not cut their daughters as well. “I was circumcised and throughout my life I have experienced difficulty with my menstruation and in giving birth. I did not want to put my daughter through that,” Fatma, mother of a 17 year old daughter, explained. Regat also added, “I believed if a girl was not circumcised that she will be promiscuous because that is what I learned. It was my husband who refused to have our daughters cut who convinced me,” she said. “He told me ‘it is not right to cut or hurt someone.’ ”

Fatna says it is women like Fatma and Regat who are helping the anti-FGM/C Committee in Ghindae to do its work to bring about an end to the practise of FGM/C in the sub-zoba. The overall prevalence rate of FGM/C in the Northern Red Sea (NRS) region is high at 95.4 per cent but there is promising progress in the younger generation of under fifteen and under five with rates of 46 per cent and 20 per cent respectively. Nationally, the overall prevalence of the practice among women 15-49 years is 83 per cent (2010) and the prevalence in under 15 girls is 33 per cent and under 5 girls is 12 per cent.

The Ghindae anti-FGM/C Committee has 11 members who are responsible for 17 kebabis (villages) of about 52,000 people. The Committee comprises members from the Ministries of Health, Education, Labour and Human Welfare, the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students (NUEYS), the National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW), local government and representatives of the Christian and Muslim faiths. Every year, committee members divide kebabis amongst themselves and target these communities, conducting meetings, disseminating anti-FGM/C messages and working with priests and muftis from the community churches and mosques respectively to inform communities that neither of the religions advocate the cutting of girls. “We also inform communities that cutting is against the law and anyone guilty of cutting will be brought to justice,” Fatna explains. Regat then quickly adds, “I tell people in my community that even giving directions to the home of someone who cuts a girl can get a person in trouble with the law.” The Government of Eritrea passed a law banning all forms of FGM/C in 2007.

The Ghindae anti-FGM/C Committee started its work in 2003 and Fatna joined the committee in 2005. In 2014, a mapping exercise, supported by UNICEF and the Ministry of Health was conducted in 124 villages including Ghindae to determine if villages met basic criteria to be declared FGM/C-free. The report indicated that overall the community of Ghindae was not ready to collectively and publicly abandon FGM/C, indicating that despite the efforts of people like Fatna, Fatma and Regat there was still work to be done.

UNICEF is supporting the Government of Eritrea in its multi-pronged approach to bring about an end to the practise of FGM/C in Eritrea. Referred to as the Habawari or ‘collective’ approach, it involves the contributions of all sectors of society working to end FGM/C. This involves the Government, civil society, the religious community, law enforcement, former circumcisers and victims. Activities in communities include dissemination of anti-FGM messages, hosting of dialogue sessions in communities nationwide to promote anti-FGM/C messages and the training of social workers, community based volunteers and law enforcement authorities in child rights to provide child protection services.

Fatna says that peoples’ attitudes are also changing and women are now publicly discussing FGM/C. “When I first started on this Committee in 2005, people would look away or look down whenever FGM/C was discussed. They were embarrassed to talk openly about it. Now they openly discuss it; women talk about it.”

Both Fatma and Regat agree. “They will openly talk about it in weddings and when you meet them on the street. The majority are now against FGM/C. Things have changed and women are saying ‘enough is enough’,” said Fatma to which Regat quickly added “circumcisers are not available here.” It is attitudes like these that the Government and UNICEF are working together to spread throughout Eritrea.

 

 
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