ETHIOPIA: UNFPA and UNICEF to Launch a Joint Programme on FGM/C in Afar

Ethiopia is poised to become one of the 17 countries in which UNFPA and UNICEF have launched a joint programme for the abandonment of FGM/C. The joint programme which has duration of three years will be launched in the Afar National Regional State at an official ceremony to be held in Semera on 24 November 2008. The joint programme has an overarching goal of accelerating the abandonment of FGM/C in all countries by expanding already existing efforts and declaring at least one country FGM/C free by 2012.

Female Genital Mutilation or Female Genital Cutting (FGM/C) refers to the removal of all or parts of the external female genitalia or to other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Some 3 million women and girls around the world face FGM/C every year, while some 100 to 140 million have already undergone the practice. Female genital mutilation/cutting is nearly always carried out on minors and is therefore a violation of the rights of the child. The practice also violates the rights to health, security and physical integrity of the person, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.

In Ethiopia, the 2005 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) found that three out of four women have undergone the harmful practice. Notably, the DHS reports that “[Fewer] than one in three women who have heard of FGM/C believe that the practice should continue.” Some encouraging progress has been made towards abandoning FGM/C in Ethiopia in recent years. The national prevalence of FGM/C has declined from 80 % in 2000 to 74 % in 2005. Support for the practice has also declined over the same period: from 60 % to 31 % (EDHS 2005). However, in Afar and Somali regions the prevalence is still high at 91.6% and 97.3% respectively (EDHS 2005). In these two regions, the most severe form of FGM/C, infibulations, is practiced. This involves the entire removal of the clitoris, the labia minora and labia majora, then the sealing of the wound to allow for a small hole through which the woman can urinate and menstruate.

The main strategic approach of the UNFPA-UNICEF joint programme on FGM/C is to gain the support of an initial core group, which decides to abandon FGM/C and mobilizes a sufficient number of people to facilitate a tipping point—thereby creating a rapid social shift of the norm. The programme conforms to a development model based on national ownership and is designed to foster mutual accountability and partnerships between donors and partner countries, and to involve civil society and communities themselves at grass-roots level. A core feature of implementation is partnership with government authorities, both at decentralized and national levels; with religious authorities and local religious leaders; with the media; with civil society organizations; and with the educational and reproductive health sectors. The most important stakeholders within the community—who are simultaneously beneficiaries—are the girls and women who suffer from harmful traditional practices like FGM/C.

UNFPA and UNICEF address the issue of FGM/C not only because of its harmful impact on the reproductive and sexual health of women, but also because it violates women and girls’ fundamental human rights. The joint programme will use an innovative, human rights-based approach that engages communities to enact effective legislation, strengthen reproductive health care services and initiate youth education activities.

Among the expected outputs of the UNFPA-UNICEF joint programme are effective enactment and enforcement of legislation against FGM/C; knowledge dissemination of socio-cultural dynamics of FGM/C practice; evidence-based data for programming and policies; consolidation of existing partnerships and forging of new partnerships; expanding networks of religious leaders advocating abandonment of FGM/C; media campaigns emphasizing FGM/C abandonment process; and better integration of the implementation of FGM/C practice into reproductive health strategies.

The UNFPA-UNICEF joint programme on FGM/C in Afar will be launched in the presence of high level government officials of the region as well as representatives of UN agencies, NGOs working on the issue, and members of the community.

SOURCE: African Press Organisation

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DATE: 29/11/2008

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