Finding new ways to raise awareness on the dangers of FGM and Child Marriage during COVID-19

Afar Region

By Yayo Mohammed, UNICEF Child Protection Officer and Celine Herbiet, UNICEF Child Protection Specia
24 September 2020
Abubeker Mohammed Amin, who is 34 years old, is the head of ACCIDA Youth Organization in Ethiopia’s Afar region.
UNICEFEthiopia/2020/Adem mohammed Ali
Abubeker Mohammed Amin, who is 34 years old, is the head of ACCIDA Youth Organization in Ethiopia’s Afar region.

Abubeker Mohammed Amin, who is 34 years old, is the head of ACCIDA Youth Organization in Ethiopia’s Afar region. ACCIDA was founded in 2013 and is the first youth-based organization in the region. Its youth volunteers, young women and men between the age of 15-28, are engaged in raising awareness on harmful practices, such as FGM and Child Marriage, and promoting critical reflection and dialogue on what the community can do to end those practices through community conversations.

Abubeker explains his intrinsic motivation to raise awareness in communities on the dangers of FGM and Child Marriage: “When I joined the organization there was a high prevalence of FGM, and in my region we were mostly practicing the most severe type of cutting (Type III or infibulation, which is practiced in 69 per cent of FGM cases in Afar). We youth see so much pain of young girls who have gone through FGM, and how it effects our sisters while giving birth. This is why young people must take their responsibility to inform the community about these harmful practices through various innovative ways”

COVID-19 has severely affected ACCIDA’s activities within the community, as they can no longer physically engage with community members to discuss pathways to eliminate FGM and end Child Marriage. However, Abubeker immediately recognized the importance of finding other ways to reach communities, even during the lockdown and social distancing measures. ACCIDA started organizing awareness-raisi activities by going around in the communities in a mobile van and the youth volunteers are equipped with a megaphone to spread their message. “The community reacted very positively on our initiative and they are really proud that we are continuing our work in these challenging times. We often receive constructive feedback while doing our outreach activities which motivates us to continue and strengthen our efforts”. Zahra Mohammed lives in a pastoralist village near Semara and has seen the ACCIDA volunteers in action, “The ACCIDA volunteers came to our village to inform us about the consequences of COVID-19, as well as how to prevent getting the virus by washing our hands and keeping distance. They also talked about the closure of schools and that this is not a reason to practice FGM.” Zahra says that “the awareness on FGM contributes a lot in our community to prevent newborn babies from getting cut.” Zahra’s daughter recently delivered in Mille’s Hospital and the family decided not to circumcise the baby girl.

ACCIDA is also facing challenges to reach pregnant women. In Afar region, most FGM is done on newborns, but during the health crisis many women are delivering at home, which exacerbates the risk of babies undergoing FGM. Abubeker also explains that the lack of routine community engagement activities, which involve two-way communication, might result in a raise of FGM, especially among people who practice FGM for hygienic reasons.

However, Abubeker is hopeful that his organization’s activities are raising awareness and recommends that FGM messages should be contextualized and integrated with standardized COVID-19 messages and services.

Abubeker Mohammed Amin, who is 34 years old, is the head of ACCIDA Youth Organization in Ethiopia’s Afar region. ACCIDA was founded in 2013 and is the first youth-based organization in the region. Its youth volunteers, young women and men between the age of 15-28, are engaged in raising awareness on harmful practices, such as FGM and Child Marriage, and promoting critical reflection and dialogue on what the community can do to end those practices through community conversations.

Abubeker explains his intrinsic motivation to raise awareness in communities on the dangers of FGM and Child Marriage: “When I joined the organization there was a high prevalence of FGM, and in my region we were mostly practicing the most severe type of cutting (Type III or infibulation, which is practiced in 69 per cent of FGM cases in Afar). We youth see so much pain of young girls who have gone through FGM, and how it effects our sisters while giving birth. This is why young people must take their responsibility to inform the community about these harmful practices through various innovative ways”

COVID-19 has severely affected ACCIDA’s activities within the community, as they can no longer physically engage with community members to discuss pathways to eliminate FGM and end Child Marriage. However, Abubeker immediately recognized the importance of finding other ways to reach communities, even during the lockdown and social distancing measures. ACCIDA started organizing awareness-raising activities by going around in the communities in a mobile van and the youth volunteers are equipped with a megaphone to spread their message. “The community reacted very positively on our initiative and they are really proud that we are continuing our work in these challenging times. We often receive constructive feedback while doing our outreach activities which motivates us to continue and strengthen our efforts”. Zahra Mohammed lives in a pastoralist village near Semara and has seen the ACCIDA volunteers in action, “The ACCIDA volunteers came to our village to inform us about the consequences of COVID-19, as well as how to prevent getting the virus by washing our hands and keeping distance. They also talked about the closure of schools and that this is not a reason to practice FGM.” Zahra says that “the awareness on FGM contributes a lot in our community to prevent newborn babies from getting cut.” Zahra’s daughter recently delivered in Mille’s Hospital and the family decided not to circumcise the baby girl.

ACCIDA is also facing challenges to reach pregnant women. In Afar region, most FGM is done on newborns, but during the health crisis many women are delivering at home, which exacerbates the risk of babies undergoing FGM. Abubeker also explains that the lack of routine community engagement activities, which involve two-way communication, might result in a raise of FGM, especially among people who practice FGM for hygienic reasons.

However, Abubeker is hopeful that his organization’s activities are raising awareness and recommends that FGM messages should be contextualized and integrated with standardized COVID-19 messages and services.