Good practices on the Elimination of Female Genitale Mutilations
and Child Marriage programme in Sidama region
Dara and Hula are woredas (districts) are located within the Sidama Region of Ethiopia. Due to Sidama’s recent separation from the Southern Nations and Nationalities People’s region (SNNPR) in July 2020, the prevalence of Child Marriage and Female genital Mutilation (FGM) data, specific to Sidama, is still quite limited. The 2016 EDHS, refers to data that were collected before the separation of Sidama from SNNP, and therefore only refers to Sidama zone in the narrative. According to the same source, the prevalence of FGM among women age group 15-49 is 87.6 per cent while the nation prevalence for the same age group is 65 per cent. Also, 99.4 per cent of women and 97.6 heard about FGM which the exposure level to information.
In addition, 72.2 per cent of women and 97.6 per cent of men believe that the practice should be eliminated which is critical milestone in attitudinal change that ultimately contribute towards ending the practice. Despite such encouraging progress at knowledge and attitude level on FGM and relatively lower prevalence of child marriage, the number of girls at risk of child marriage and FGM continues to be significant due to the population size and requires urgent action.
In line with the Ethiopian Government’s commitment to ending FGM by 2025 and the rollout of the National Costed Roadmap to end child marriage and FGM/C in Ethiopia (2020–2024), UNICEF provides technical and financial support for the prevention and response through the regional Bureau of Women and Children’s Affairs.
In collaboration with its partners, UNICEF focuses on several major interventions, among which:
- a) Capacity building of in and out of school adolescent girls through provision of life skill training and strengthening their platforms
- b) Social Mobilization and behaviour change activities including engagement of religious and community leaders, men and boys, community conversations and media engagement to examine and challenge deep-rooted norm
- c) Strengthening of the social and justice system and coordination mechanisms
- d) Data generation and utilization
This photo essay highlights the great work of religious leaders, adolescent girls, community facilitators and service providers who strive to eliminate child Marriage and FGM from the region.
“Our Bureau focuses on legislation and raising public awareness around harmful traditional practices. To create awareness, our brochures include information and messaging about harmful traditional practices. We also hold activities in clusters for community members, including kebele (sub-district) administrators and Women Development Army, community and religious leaders.
We also encourage people to report incidents that occur in the community. There have been no recent cases of child marriage, but there was a case of a girl being circumcised. This happened discreetly, but when we received the report, the circumciser was detained straight away. She was sentenced to a year in prison. The case has been eye-opening for the community. Raising awareness about the consequences of one's conduct isn't always enough; people often want to see action taken. Through the collaborative discussions we have with the Office of Women, Children, and Youth, Education, and Health Sectors, I feel the community has a good understanding of the consequences of child marriage and FGM.”
Bureau of Justice, Dara Woreda
"The Office of Women, Children, and Youth, in partnership with the Bureau of Health, trained me and my colleagues on harmful traditional practices. Now, I take advantage of every opportunity to raise awareness about child marriage and female genital mutilation. We provide education on the health repercussions of child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) to Women Development Army groups. These women travel from village to village to teach members of our community. We also have a monthly pregnant mothers' forum at my office, and we talk about Harmful Traditional Practices there as well. Recently, I received a report from the surveillance group regarding an attempt to arrange a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and 40-year-old man. When the surveillance group notified me, I promptly reported it to the Office of Women, Children, and Youth. Her family, as well as the man, were arrested. The girl continued her education."
Sr. Emebet Getachew
Health Extension Worker at the Health Centre, Dara Woreda
“As part of religious group committee, we have offered many trainings to religious leaders on harmful traditional practices, specifically on child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), in partnership with the Office of Women, Children, and Youth.
In the training, we debunk myths surrounding FGM and show that the bible does not mention FGM. We emphasize Abraham’s message in the book of Genesis to circumcise only boys. We cover the wide range of complications that results from FGM, including prolonged labour and fistula. We also explore what the law and the Bible say about child marriage. The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. This is also what our religion teaches. Before getting married, a woman should be ready physically, mentally, and financially, and these are some of the conversations we have during our training. As a woreda representative, I receive quarterly reports from religious leaders, which I prepare and send to the office of Women, Children, and Youth.
Our churches have many opportunities to increase awareness. At mothers' group meetings, with around 40 mothers attending, we cover harmful traditional practices in detail as one of the discussion points. Mothers go on to educate their children. With young people making up 40 per cent of our congregation, our youth group is another event that helps us promote awareness. Our church has chosen youth leaders and provided Harmful Traditional Practices (HTP) Training of Trainers. These young people are also activists in their communities. Wedding days are another chance to create awareness, with around 5,00 guests gathering to attend each ceremony. We teach about HTP at these events. People used to say that men won’t marry uncircumcised girls. Our men have confronted each other and challenged this misguided belief.
Our congregation is aware that child marriage and FGM are sinful actions, and the Bible does not endorse them. In our community, we haven't heard of any incidences of FGM or child marriage.”
Reverend Fisseha Debiso
Evangelical Church Priest and Leader, Dara Woreda
"After receiving training on harmful traditional practices by the Office of Women, Children, and Youth, I joined the Women's Development Army.”
“When girls are pushed into marriage, they go through a lot. First, they are subjected to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) then suffer prolonged labor and fistula. These are the topics that we discuss at our meetings. I lead two Women's Development Armies, each with 30 members, and they are well-informed about Harmful traditional Practices (HTP). I'm also a member of the Parent Teachers Association, and I take part in various events to educate and raise awareness about harmful traditional practices. I used to be unaware, and my first and second born married at an early age before they were 18 years and were also circumcised. By the time my granddaughter was born, I was fully aware of the consequences of FGM. Now she is in Grade 11 and not circumcised."
Women Development Army Leader, Gelo Wacho Kebele, Dara Woreda
“I joined the Women's Development Army after participating in the Harmful Traditional Practices (HTP) training provided by the Office of Women, Children, and Youth. Every 15 days, we gather members of the Women Development Army in our neighborhood to discuss HTP. Because we live in a religious community, we also teach using the Bible and show that the tradition isn't based on the Bible. The Women's Development Army is primarily focused on women, but we also hold discussions with men at various events. We have seen a visible change in the behavior of the community as a result of this constant discussion.”
Women Development Army member, Gelo Wacho Kebele, Dara Woreda
"There have been many changes that have come about because of our discussions with the community. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and child marriage used to be common but are no longer practiced. If a woman is caught practicing FGM on her daughter or marrying her as a child, she will be barred from social events. There is a bylaw adapted by the community which imposes social sanctions on those who practice and participate in child marriage or FGM. They are aware of the law and that harmful practices are prohibited and result in punishment, but they are terrified of social exclusion."
Women Development Army member, Gelo Wacho Kebele, Dara Woreda
“When I was in primary school, organizations came to our school and taught us about harmful traditional practices (HTP). I was captivated by the training and learnt a great deal about the hazards. I joined Gender Club to become a stronger advocate against HTP. I have a program where I teach HTP using our school's mini-media and I participate in door-to-door teaching campaigns in rural areas. Because the mini media is available all week, I invite a variety of people to speak about the challenges associated with child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), including students and teachers who are actively involved in awareness raising. The mini media has expanded, and some students bring their own programs to discuss without my involvement. We have uploaded some content to a flash drive that students listen to for personal development, such as building self-confidence and learning about other girls' life experiences. We have a suggestion box at school where students can ask questions anonymously, and we often receive assistance from the Office of Women, Children, and Youth to address them.
When classmates used to drop out of school, we would later learn that they had been married. This happened after we enrolled in high school. When two students dropped out and we learned that they were married we visited the girls and their family. We engaged them with constructive conversation and convinced them to return to school. Now they share their story on our mini media, and more girls return to school.
I'm in 12th grade, and while school keeps me busy, I want to continue teaching in my community since it's my passion. I would like to encourage more young girls to prioritize their studies."
Yididya Tesfaye, 18
Grade 12, Kebado Secondary School Mini Media Coordinator, Selam Kebele, Dara Woreda
"My family wanted me to marry after I finished Grade 6. I declined because I wanted to finish my studies and I was too young to marry. The woreda staff counseled my family, and they later agreed that I should continue my studies."
Aynalem Fentere, 15
Grade 7 student, Bochesa Kebele, Hula Woreda
"In partnership with the Office of Women, Children, and Youth, we teach Harmful Traditional Practice (HTP) to our congregations through an association we formed in 2019 with three religious institutions and community leaders. Our church's teaching is that HTP is firmly condemned. I work with 14 churches and have formed nine committees from each, to evaluate their advocacy progress. My findings are reported to the Office of Women, Children, and Youth every month. After our monthly meetings with the religious institutions and community leaders, we also report that to the office. During these meetings, we share our successes and challenges about our teachings in our churches and mosques.
I cannot claim that child marriage and FGM have been completely abandoned, but there has been a huge shift in people's attitudes, and there haven't been many reports from our community. For a more long-term and sustainable impact, we need to broaden our goals and include additional religious institutions."
Priest Tenager Mekonen
Religious Leader, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Hula Woreda
"A lot of girls used to get married against their will in our community. These teenage girls dropped out of school and endured difficulties during pregnancy. These are some of the topics we discuss during our community meetings. We also work closely with the community surveillance group, and they alert us if a child marriage arrangement is being attempted or girls are at risk. We then report to the Office of Women, Children, and Youth. Our community has significantly changed both in attitude and practice as a result of these discussions and follow-up."
Women Development Army Leader, Secha 01 Kebele, Hula Woreda
On behalf of the girls and women and their families and communities served by this programme, UNICEF would like to thank Global Affairs Canada for the generous financial and technical support provided, as well as The European Union, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom for their essential support to the UNFPA and UNICEF Joint Programme.