Good practices on the Elimination of Female Genitale Mutilations

and Child Marriage programme in Southern Nations Nationalities and People’s region

Martha Tadesse
Getachew Amlaku
UNICEF Ethiopia/2022
30 March 2022

Dalocha and Mareko are woredas (districts) within the Southern Nation and Nationalities (SNNP) Region. SNNP is among the regions which shows promising progress in the reduction of child marriage. As per the 2016 EDHS, 30.8 per cent of adolescent girls marry before they reach 18 years, which is lower than the national average of 40.3 per cent. Efforts need to be accelerated by 4 and 7-fold to end child marriage by 2025 and 2030, while the required rate of acceleration at national level is 10 and 6 times respectively. Similarly, the prevalence of FGM among women aged 15-49 has significantly decreased from 71 per cent in 2011 to 62 per cent according to the 2016 EDHS data.  

Despite such encouraging progress, the number of girls who are victims of child marriage and FGM continue 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 UNICF focuses on several major interventions, among which:  

  1. Capacity building of in and out of school adolescent girls through provision of life skill training and strengthening their platforms 
  2. 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 
  3. Strengthening of the social and justice system and coordination mechanisms 
  4. 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 form the region.   

Mareko Woreda 

Religious leaders 

“We are creating awareness in our community about the consequences of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) by collaborating with community elders. Sometimes parents travel to rural areas to circumcise their daughters. These incidents show that we have not been able to convince parents to change their long-held beliefs on FGM. The biggest challenge is changing traditional beliefs people have held for so long. However, there have been a lot of changes. People now know that these harmful practices are not biblical. People are learning about it in school and in church, so they have a better understanding than a few years back. Urban areas have shown tremendous progress and now I think we need to put more effort in rural areas.” 

Getachew Amlaku 
Sunday School leader, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Midore Kebele, Mareko Woreda   

Jiru Nura 

“We have around 570 members in our church and we do awareness-raising on harmful traditional practice after sermon once or twice a month. We talk about child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). And we let our congregation know that these harmful practices are against the Bible. The Bible only talks about boys’ circumcision. As well as the health consequences, we also teach our members that FGM is a sin. We have let community leaders know that if any community member practices FGM, we will report to the office of Women, Children and Youth and they will also be excluded from community gatherings as part of the community bylaw. There have been changes, of course. People used to believe that uncircumcised girls will cause trouble or don’t obey their family, but that has changed now. We have a good relationship with the Office of Women, Children, and Youth. They organize meetings that they arrange for different religious leaders and community elders. We share experiences and discuss the challenges we have in our awareness-raising.” 

Jiru Nura 
Evangelical church leader, Midore Kebele, Mareko Woreda  

Abdilwahid Gadisa 

“Our mosque used to teach FGM as Sunnah. We didn’t have awareness back then. We took training last year from the Office of Women, Children, and Youth on harmful traditional practice and we have been teaching our community since then. We were able to discuss among other religious leaders and agreed that FGM isn’t Sunnah but Haram. Jumah or Friday prayer is a good time to teach our community members because a lot of the community members come for prayer. The training not only helped my community, but it has rescued four of my daughters from being cut.” 

Abdilwahid Gadisa 
Muslim religious leader, Midore Kebele, Mareko Woreda  



Belete Silkore 

“We have awareness-raising strategies in place in all of our 26 kebeles. We have events for awareness-raising on harmful practices and we let communities know that individuals will be held accountable if they commit a crime. There are surveillance groups in every kebele, and these groups report to police if any community member attempts to marry their daughters or practice FGM. The issue is very big and the efforts of other offices is very relevant to tackling it, so, we have collaborated with the Office of Education and the Office of Women, Children, and Youth to organize events and platforms to educate our community. Harmful traditional practice is a crime and no religion support it, and this is the key message we pass on in communities. There is tangible change and the awareness is there. Health and education institutions are working with us to bring even greater results.” 

Belete Silkore 
Office of Attorney Head, Mareko Woreda 

Remedan Mitemso 

“We work closely with health extension workers to raise awareness in the community. Different events are facilitated by the Women Development Army such as the monthly women’s conference, a monthly forum for new mothers to discuss harmful traditional practices.” 

Remedan Mitemso 
Bureau of Health Deputy, Mareko Woreda   


Dalocha Woreda 

Dese Tilahun 

“To tackle harmful traditional practices, we have established an Anti-Harmful Traditional Practice (Anti-HTP) Committee with 11 members composed of religious leaders, teachers, police officers, youth, and women. On top of that, we have the Women Development Army. Through this structure, we have managed to organize 70 community members and conduct regular conversations twice a month. The key players in our strategy are religious leaders who are trusted as a source of information and guidance. They can influence the preference of families. They make time to teach about harmful traditional practices in their institutes. Religious leaders report to us and we report to the Office of Women, Children, and Youth. It is these collaborative efforts that have brought a huge change in our community. I can speak about our kebele and say that every community member is aware of the consequences of harmful traditional practice.” 

Dese Tilahun 
Kebele Admin and Anti-Harmful Traditional Practice Coordinator, Ferejat Kebele, Dalocha Woreda  

Sheikh Hussen Abdela  ​​​​​​​

“We all witness the consequences of child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in our communities. One of my relatives had prolonged labor and suffered with Fistula. These experiences make us even more conscious. We used to believe that FGM was a religious practice, but through training by religious scholars and the office of Women, Children and Youth, we have learned that it is a harmful traditional practice and that our religion does not allow it. The training and continued conversation with religious scholars has helped us understand that FGM is not a religious obligation which Muslim’s are indebted to do. This is what we teach our congregation. At every Salatul-Jumu'ah or Friday Prayer, we make some time to talk about harmful traditional practices to reach the wider community.” 

Sheikh Hussen Abdela 
Muslim Religious Leader, Ferejat Kebele, Dalocha Woreda 

Priest Abebe Moges

“For the longest time, we followed the ways of those before us. We believed the myth that said, “uncircumcised girls are naughty and reckless.” But I and other religious leaders received training from the Office of Women, Children and Youth and senior religious scholars. We gathered and discussed how FGM is not within the biblical teachings. We have started teaching our church members, and they now have a good knowledge about the harmful traditional practices. We no longer hear about child marriage or FGM happening in our community.” 

Priest Abebe Moges
Orthodox Christian Religious leader, Anti-Harmful Traditional Practices (Anti-HTP) committee, Ferejat Kebele, Dalocha Woreda  

Sheikh Yasin Mohammod 

“I can confidently say that we have tackled harmful traditional practices such as child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). We have not heard anything negative from the communities and we are very happy to see the change.”  

Sheikh Yasin Mohammod 
Muslim religious leader, Ferejat Kebele, Dalocha Woreda  


Anti-Harmful Traditional Practices (Anti-HTP) members: 

Sadiya Sunkemo 

“As a health extension worker, I know the consequences of these harmful traditional practices. Because of the training I received, I now facilitate Community Conversations for 70 members of my community, and I get invited to other places to share my knowledge as well. My colleague and I go to health centers every week on vaccination days and raise awareness on harmful traditional practices. The community has made such a huge change because of this.  

The other helpful tool in monitoring girls in our community is birth certificates. Through those certificates, we know which mothers gave birth to girls and we follow up to make sure girls are in school and not getting married.” 

Sadiya Sunkemo 
Health extension worker, Ferejat Kebele, Dalocha Woreda  


Women Development Army  

Keyiru Mulugeta  ​​​​​​​

“We get together every week with members of the Women Development Army to discuss harmful traditional practices and once in a month with communities. Our religious leaders are our great support for this. They teach communities at their churches and mosques. There are 19 Women Development army groups in this kebele, and each group has 25 to 30 community members. This will help monitor the community closely. Due to this strategy, girls come to us if they hear anything related to child marriage or Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) arrangements in the house. There is a girl we rescued from child marriage because she was able to give me a call and inform me about it.” 

Keyiru Mulugeta 
Women Development Army leader, Ferejat Kebele, Dalocha Woreda  

Beyida Hussen  ​​​​​​​

“Our community has abandoned Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) practice and child marriage. As a group, we are saying that we have suffered a lot and we don’t want that to happen to our children. I have three girls and they are not circumcised. To show that I am proud of that, I show pictures of my daughters to the community.”

Beyida Hussen 
Women Development Army member, Ferejat Kebele, Dalocha Woreda  

Meaza Teka ​​​​​​​

“There has been a tremendous change in attitudes to harmful practices in our community. Nobody is practicing Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) now. My daughters and grandchildren have not been circumcised and nor have the girls in my neighborhood. We have put every effort into ending FGM, and it is rewarding to see the results.” 

Meaza Teka
Women Development Army member, Ferejat Kebele, Dalocha Woreda  

Ekram Sirego  ​​​​​​​

“I joined the Women Development Army because of my mother. My mother was the leader of the Women Development Army and I used to see her and her friends raising awareness in the community. I was inspired by their dedication and decided to join them. My mother knew the consequences of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), so my sister and I were not circumcised. My sister became a member of the Gender Club at school to fight harmful traditional practices. We are all doing our part in the fight to end the practice.” 

Ekram Sirego 
Women Development Army member, Ferejat Kebele, Dalocha Woreda  

Nuritu Sirbar ​​​​​​​

“Over the past four years, we have been mobilizing the community to end child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) because of the physical and psychological consequences we have witnessed in girls. To eradicate these practices our Bureau has been giving training to key individuals and stakeholders who can play a big role in bringing change. Community and religious leaders are our main target due to their social acceptance and ability to influence the behaviors of community members. In addition, we organize committees, such as the Anti-Harmful Traditional Practice Committee and Women Development Army to support the effort at the community level. It is through these arrangements that we have been able to see a huge change in our district. Women and girls have had so many problems due to these harmful traditional practices; I am thrilled to see the change in our community.”  

Nuritu Sirbar
Bureau of Women, Children and Youth Affairs (BOWCYA) Head, Dalocha Woreda 

Murad Zeinum ​​​​​​​

“The two reasons cited by community members to justify Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) are religion and traditional beliefs. Our community used to believe that FGM is a mandatory religious practice and that uncircumcised girls will become reckless and naughty. To challenge the misinterpretations of holy scriptures and myths, we trained religious leaders and community elders. They have high credibility as leaders which helped us in our work. The community is also aware of the legal consequences of their actions. We have arrested elders that have taken part in harmful practices in the past and that has sent a big message to the community. Everyone is going to be held accountable for their actions, including key members of the community.” 

Murad Zeinum
Bureau of Justice, Dalocha Woreda  

Jemal Asrar 

“We work in schools to raise awareness on harmful practices using mini media. Students learn about harmful practices through soap operas, music, and poetry. We have 34 primary schools and 4 high schools in this woreda, and students gather twice a month to discuss harmful traditional practices. We teach students about consequences, and also how to say no to any form of harmful practice, the services available to them, and where to seek support if they believe that they or other girls are at risk. School clubs, such as Gender Clubs, are another strategy for awareness-raising.  Clubs help us to find out about students’ awareness of and activities around harmful traditional practices. There are also quarterly events for mothers where Gender Club leaders have conversations about harmful traditional practices, and a Parents’ Day that happens twice a year. At Parents’ Day, students can challenge their parents on long-held beliefs about child marriage and FGM. Our collaborative effort with the Office of Women, Children, and Youth has been successful. We have provided many trainings for teachers and students on harmful traditional practices. And the progress is substantial.”  

Jemal Asrar 
Office of Education Head, Dalocha 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.