Celebrating the UN ban on female genital mutilation

Article Date

28 December 2012

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

Upon receiving the recent news of the United Nations General Assembly resolution to ban female genital mutilation (FGM), my thoughts went to the fearless women and men around the world who have championed campaigns to eliminate the practice – also referred to as “cutting” –  within their communities. The work they have done and continue to do testifies to the significance of the resolution in urgingcountries to condemn all harmful practices that affect women and girls, in particular FGM, and to take all necessary measures, including enforcing legislation, raising awareness and allocating sufficient resources, to protect women and girls from this type of violence.

The UN resolution has only strengthened our resolve here at ICRW to sustain our research and policy engagement around preventing all forms of violence against women. We continue to identify and design promising approaches to address gender-based violence. However, we also recognize and support endeavors that have proven effective, which can be replicated in other countries and communities.

In terms of combating FGM, one approach I choose to recognize is Ethiopia’s Kembatta Mentti Gezzima, (KMG) which means “women pooling labor together.” Founded in 1997, the nongovernmental organization aims to create a society where women and girls are free from all forms of discrimination and violence.

KMG works primarily with indigenous women and girls of the Kembatta-Tembaro zone in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Regional State. Located about 230 miles south of the capital Addis Ababa, the region is one of the most densely populated and impoverished of the country. As a cultural practice in the Kembatta-Tembaro zone, girls between the ages of 11 and 16 often underwent female genital mutilation, leaving them exposed to life long reproductive health problems and diminished their chances to remain in school.

When KMG’s founder in 1999 made a presentation about FGM and its dangers in the Kembatta-Tembaro zone, she was met with a rather unexpected response. During the first discussion session with the founder, the community indicated that their priority need was a bridge. Ultimately, a bridge was built jointly with labor and materials from the community and the founder’s meagre savings of US $5,000. That bridge metaphorically built a bond of trust between KMG and the community.

KMG’s theory of change is underpinned by the facilitation of communities to analyze and develop their own solutions to the challenges they face. This “Community Capacity Enhancement through Community Conversation” methodology is predicated on the notion that when community members come together and discuss the issues most relevant to them, they will generate appropriate and sustainable solutions of their own.

Here’s how it works in the Kembatta-Tembaro zone: KMG facilitators initiate a conversation with a select group who represent different factions of the community, from traditional and religious leaders to youth. The facilitator engages the group in an analysis of community problems, a process that draws out issues such as HIV and AIDS, low literacy levels and poverty. A deeper analysis then draws out the link between these issues and how harmful cultural practices such as FGM people’s affect health, education and livelihoods. The initial participants of the group then invite their peers to the next community conversation and the group continues to grow with new participants inviting others. These conversations take place every 15 days, which helps to build consensus among community members so they may make informed decisions on issues of shared concern.

A 2008 study conducted in collaboration with UNICEF demonstrated that through KMG’s interventions there had been a significant decline since 1999 in FGM the Kembatta-Tembaro zone. The study also established that community conversations empowered girls to openly resist the practice. As further evidence of gradual eradication, most circumcisers had taken on new sources of income, and the aged are not being replaced with younger circumcisers. Weddings of uncircumcised girls are publicly celebrated in the communities where KMG works – ending stigmatization of uncircumcised girls.

Under the same study, there was evidence of a decline in FGM as a result of community-based efforts in Egypt, Kenya, Senegal and Sudan.

Today, as governments and civil society organizations respond to the call of the UN General Assembly practices, they should consider the power of community-based interventions to address not just FGM but also other harmful traditional practices including child marriage and partner violence.