The number of girls and women who undergo female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) has declined in Ethiopia's Southern Regional State, and could be reduced further if stronger penalties were enforced, an NGO leader said.
"Previously people did not even mention FGM/C; it was a taboo," said Bogaletch Gebre, executive director of Kembatta Women's Self-Help Centre, a local NGO engaged in educating the public in Kembatta, Alaba and Tembaro zones.
According to official statistics, FGM/C prevalence in the state decreased from 80 percent in 2000 to 74 percent in 2005. Bogaletch said this could improve with legal reform.
"The law in our country is very weak and not a deterrent," she said. "When this happens, people are not afraid of breaking it. My life as a woman is not worth more than 500 Birr [US$55]."
Under the Ethiopian Penal Code, FGM/C carries a punishment of imprisonment of not less than three months or a fine of not less than 500 Birr.
"Ethiopia is a signatory to many international laws, but has not yet ratified the Maputo protocol," she told IRIN in the capital, Addis Ababa, on the sidelines of an African consultative meeting on FGM/C.
The Maputo Protocol came into force in November 2005 and is an African initiative that prohibits and condemns FGM/C. As a result, 16 African countries have banned the practice.
The consultative meeting heard that the occurrence of FGM has reduced in several other African countries.
"Prevalence decline is visible in countries like Kenya, Eritrea, Mali and Nigeria where anti-FGM/C interventions have been going for some years," said Fama Hane Ba, African Division Director at the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). "This is good news."
FGM/C, which involves the partial or total removal or injury to the female genitalia, is practised as a deterrent to promiscuity in some African communities.
|Prevalence decline is visible in countries like Kenya, Eritrea, Mali and Nigeria where anti-FGM/C interventions have been going on for some years|
Hane Ba said the majority of women at risk are in 28 African countries. "An estimated 120 to 140 million women and girls have also been subjected to the FGM/C practice throughout the world," she said.
She added: "It is encouraging to note that many organisations are implementing innovative programmatic strategies combining law enforcement and culturally sensitive approaches to sustain behavioural change."
Community dialogue, alternative rites of passage ceremonies, role modelling by families and consensus-building among communities were cited as achieving positive results in Burkina Faso, Senegal, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Egypt.
"Community dialogue uses a wide range of participatory methodologies and culturally sensitive advocacy strategies, such as story-telling, active listening and strategic questioning to generate a deep and complex understanding of the nature of FGM/C," Hane Ba said. "Through this process, many communities are saying 'no' to FGM/C."
See IRIN film:
Razor's Edge: The Controversy of Female Genital Mutilation
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