From circumcising girls, to advocating against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation

Martha Tadesse
Bisrat Biru, (40) had been a circumciser in Dara district for more than 20 years.
UNICEF Ethiopia/2022
04 February 2022

Bisrat Biru, (40) had been a circumciser in Dara district for more than 20 years. Bisrat grew up with her grandmother, a well-known circumciser in the community.  

“I used to tag along with my grandmother and see how she did the circumcision. I grew up in a very rural part of Dombosco and I got married at 13. I was probably 16 when I became a circumciser and started supporting my family through that income. In the wedding season, I used to circumcise up to 6 girls a day that brought lots of money for my family.”  

Dara is a district in Sidama National Regional State where Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is prevalent. According to the 2016 Ethiopian Demographic and Health Survey, 87.6 per cent of girls and women (age 15 to 49) in the zone are circumcised.

Getting circumcised while preparing for marriage was the fate for almost all girls six to seven years ago. Interventions to end child marriage and FGM with the support of The Global Programme to End Child Marriage and Joint Programme on FGM by UNICEF started in Sidama region in 2016 in collaboration with the Bureau of Women, Children and Youth and the Attorney General.   

Girls in Dara are circumcised when parents considered them of marriageable age, between 13 and 15 years old.

Bisrat explains, “circumcision would happen when the girl was staying with the future husband before the wedding. I went to the husband’s house and would receive 100 to 150 ETB (2 to 3 USD) for the circumcision. The price for circumcising an abducted child was even more for an arranged marriage because, once a girl is circumcised, the family won’t take her back. They paid whatever I asked, and I used to ask for 300ETB (6 USD). These requests came through brokers and I made money from both the abductors and the brokers.”  

Bisrat grew up with her grandmother, a well-known circumciser in the community.
UNICEF Ethiopia/2022
Bisrat grew up with her grandmother, a well-known circumciser in the community.

Since that time, Bisrat has participated in continuous awareness raising sessions organized by the Office of Women, Children, and Youth. These sessions challenged her beliefs and helped her to make the link between her own experience of prolonged labor and being circumcised.  

“I learned that prolonged labor is a common consequence of FGM. I labored for seven days in one of my pregnancies but, at the time, I didn’t make the link. This realization made me quit the circumcision of girls. So much suffering comes from circumcision, I said to myself. I will never circumcise girls. My husband was very supportive when I told him about it. The next thing was planning how I could make an income if I didn’t have the income from circumcision. Then Women Development Group, through the woreda (district) Women, Children and Youth office, facilitated a start-up loan for me to start my own business immediately so, it wasn’t difficult to quit completely. It has now been five years since I stopped circumcising girls. I have four daughters.

One is circumcised because I was unaware of the suffering that it causes at the time. My three daughters of 18, 15, and 14, aren’t circumcised, and they won’t be.”  

Bisrat says that awareness-raising plays a key role in bringing about change. 

“After I quit, brokers still came to my house from rural areas. I told them that I had stopped cutting because of the negative consequences for girls. When they insisted, I sent them away with a warning that I would report them. Slowly things have changed in the community. Those brokers are now teaching in their villages. Our churches are teaching every week about harmful practices and people are listening. I am now actively involved in the community conversation sessions and working with the office of women, children, and youth and I hope to reach many people in my community.” 

On behalf of the girls and women and their families and communities served by the Joint Programme, UNFPA and UNICEF would like to thank the following governments for their financial contributions: The European Union, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.