Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – On August 1, 2007, thirty religious leaders from the Afar region, and representatives from the Islamic Affairs Bureau and the Women’s Affairs Bureau created and signed a declaration to end the practice of female circumcision (also called female genital mutilation or FGM). The declaration was one of the end results of a workshop Population Media Center (PMC) held on July 31st and August 1st to discuss the issue of female circumcision and what religious leaders can do to help eradicate the practice.
In Ethiopia, 74% of women age 15-49 have been circumcised. The harmful practice of female circumcision comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia. FGM frequently causes health complications that can last throughout a woman’s life and can even lead to death.
Cultural practices encourage women to be circumcised. Girls who are not circumcised are labeled as promiscuous, and, therefore, unworthy of marriage. The belief also exists that external female genitals are unclean. So despite the many unwarranted deaths, complications in pregnancy and childbirth, infection, and the psychological trauma caused by FGM, the practice is still practiced widely throughout Ethiopia, particularly in the Afar region.
The Ethiopian government’s population policy, health policy and women’s policy all promote eradication of harmful traditional practices, including FGM, yet social acceptance of the practice is still strong. Regardless of the fact that FGM is not religiously affiliated, many people relate FGM with religion, therefore involving religious leaders in any effort to eradicate the practice is crucial.
Sheik Mohammed Awael Hayat, President of the Supreme Sharia Court of the Afar region, gave opening remarks at PMC’s workshop. In his speech he declared that FGM was an inhumane practice and that the daughters of Prophet Mohammed have not been circumcised, therefore FGM has no religious grounds and should be discontinued. He asked that all zones teach to eliminate all forms of female circumcision.
The religious leaders discussed the issue of FGM at length, and each zone created an action plan to eradicate the practice. On August 1st the leaders came together to create and sign the following declaration.
1. We condemn all harmful traditional practices and female circumcision, of all types, as they do not have religious ground and support
2. We have committed ourselves to educate the public in mosques, schools, and other convenient places about the baseless belief that female circumcision is a religious obligation
3. We have given the responsibility of follow-up of this declaration to Islamic Affairs bureau, Office of the Supreme Sharia Courts and the Women’s Affairs Office of the region. We, religious leaders will do all in our capacities to mitigate and ultimately eliminate FGM
4. The role that all sector bureaus and particularly health, education, and culture and tourism bureaus can play in this endeavor is high. We thus call upon these government sectors to join their efforts in the elimination of these harmful traditional practices
5. We highly appreciate PMC and Save the Children Norway for their initiative to conduct research on harmful traditional practices in the region, its development of a four-year plan to work in Afar region and for organizing this awareness creation workshop for religious leaders. We call upon PMC to continue providing appropriate support in the future to the effort that will be to eliminate FGM in the region
This workshop was the first part of comprehensive strategy to eradicate the practice of FGM in Ethiopia, and the Afar region in particular. PMC uses a whole society strategy to strengthen the impact of communications initiatives. PMC-Ethiopia will soon launch its newest radio serial drama throughout Ethiopia with a storyline about the risks and negative consequences of FGM. The workshop was funded by Save the Children Norway.