Creating a community free of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

and safe environment for girls

By Hirut Jifara
11 August 2022

Chali Gemechu 60-year-old woman lives in Bekeledeya kebele, Shala district woreda, West Arsi zone, Oromia region of Ethiopia. She is a farmer and has two daughters and a son. Chali had been performing FGM for more than 30 years, dating back to the 1980s. 

"I always followed my mother when she performed circumcision and learned the practice from her. At that time, parents brought girls to us for circumcision because there were various beliefs in our societies, such as if girls were not circumcised, they would be promiscuous, break household commodities, and not be faithful to their husbands. I couldn't lie to you. I have done FGM for more than 500 girls. They used to pay me only 2 birr per child and bring a cup of butter and honey. To your surprise, because of the ample experience I had, I could even perform FGM with my closed eyes", said Chali.

"One of our main challenges in the past was that there were no platforms that provided us with information on the consequences of FGM, for which case we did it with courage, and even personally, I thought that I was doing the right thing for girls at that time," says Chali  

In partnership with the Bureau of Women, Children and Youth Affairs (BOWCYA), UNICEF has been implementing various awareness-raising activities and community mobilization to end FGM and child marriage in the community.

"Thanks to UNICEF and the government, I learned a lot about the consequences of FGM. Since then, I promised myself that I would no longer do FGM and started working closely with the government and UNICEF as agents of change. I am now part of a community mobilization team and educate my community by putting myself as a role model at different social events such as coffee ceremonies, house of mourning, community meetings, marketplaces, etc.," says Chali. 

The kebele, Bekeledeya, where Chali is living, is now free of FGM. In this kebele, Chali and the other change agents work closely with religious leaders and the traditional system: "Our Geda system leaders, Aba Geda and Hadha Sinke have set rules for the community to follow such as not to perform FGM, to stop practicing child marriage and other harmful traditional practices. Furthermore, for us in the Muslim community, it's also haram in our sheria," said Chali.

Jula Gemeda, a 36-year-old man, is a Law graduate and has been working at West Arsi zone Shala district Bureau of women, children, and youth affairs for the past ten years. He said, "I am very excited to be part of this work and see Bekeledeya kebele, where Chali lives, free of FGM. I feel that I am helping and saving the lives of many girls. Besides, I am learning a lot while working with communities about FGM, CM, and its consequences," said Jula. 

According to Jula, the Shala district has a total population of 214,008. Many activities are done with the support of UNICEF to make the section free from FGM and other harmful traditional practices. UNICEF is supporting community conversations aimed at changing social norms. We also work with gender clubs at schools and use audiovisual messages for practical awareness creation activities. I am proud that my kebele, Bekeledeya, is among those six kebeles declared free of FGM, said Jula. 

"I am very excited to be the change agent for ending FGM and HTP," said Chali.