February 2014: Kebebush, 22, from Goriche, Ethiopia, is standing proud in her campaign shirt ahead of 6 February – International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation – having helped change attitudes with support from Plan and partners.
Unlike many women in her community, she was taught by her father about the dangers of female genital mutilation (FGM). At 18, she married and moved away with her husband – but soon after her new family demanded that she undergo FGM.
“I suffered with frequent nagging from my husband’s family to undergo circumcision. I was discriminated against and was not regarded as normal,” she says.
Her mother-in-law pleaded but Kebebush resisted. She reported the matter to the community’s change agent – a voluntary government official who acts as a bridge to communities, who convinced her husband that FGM could cause health problems.
Female genital mutilation includes traditional rituals that involve the surgical removal of some or all of the external female genitalia. It can lead to bleeding, infections and childbirth problems.
Thanks to the change agent, Kebebush was spared from what many girls struggle to challenge. “After my first child, my father-in-law again demanded that I undergo FGM saying it was vital for my baby’s health. I reported him to the change agent who took him to the Women, Children and Youth Affairs office to explain the harmful effects of FGM. He agreed not to raise the issue again,” recalls Kebebush.
Sisters now safe
Kebebush now lives happily with her family and prevented her sister-in-laws from FGM. She no longer faces discrimination due to her uncircumcised status.
“My husband’s friends realised that marrying an uncircumcised woman will not result in any negative effects as perceived by the community,” says Kebebush.
Legislation banning FGM takes different forms in various countries. In Ethiopia it is incorporated into criminal law, however, the practice persists.
Plan works with children’s groups and local communities to create awareness of the topic and encourages participation in efforts to eliminate FGM.
“We acknowledge that harmful traditional practices may not be deliberate acts of parents against children’s wellbeing. It results from long-standing traditions, which have various misconceptions,” says Ephrem Belay, Child Protection Specialist for Plan in Ethiopia.
“We are working with communities to increase knowledge and change attitudes. We are empowering young girls about their rights, education, and campaigns and the results are starting to show.”