At 16, Lamrot couldn’t have guessed that she would become a role model in her Ethiopian town for her advocacy against female genital mutilation (FGM). But since she joined a group that listens to, discusses, and promotes a Population Media Center radio talk show on FGM and child marriage, she is speaking out against the practice, a horrible tradition that often involves sewing a woman’s genitals shut and is also called female circumcision.
Lamrot, an eighth grader who lives in the town of Koshe, has even decided to refuse the procedure for herself, despite intense pressure from her family and community. “Now I am a happy and fulfilled girl. I stand as a voice for girls who do not want to suffer any more from such harmful practices. Girls, please say ‘no’ to FGM and other practices that put you in danger,” Lamrot says.
FGM is an ancient tradition now prohibited by law in Ethiopia and some other countries, although it still occurs. The practice can have long-term physical, psychological and social impacts, including increased risk of newborn and maternal deaths in childbirth. Many girls don’t know its damaging impacts and don’t protest the act; others may protest, but have no power to stop the procedure.
As a global nonprofit founded to promote the rights of girls and women, PMC, through TV and radio shows, spreads awareness of issues that threaten health and limit opportunities for females around the world. PMC’s work aligns with issues highlighted by the annual International Day of the Girl Child on October 11.
The international day promotes awareness about gender-based challenges, including child marriage, violence, discrimination, and limited educational opportunities. Created by a U.N. General Assembly resolution, the inaugural year was 2012. Now, thousands of events around the world observe the day.
“Girls’ rights are human rights, first and foremost,” says Wendi Stein, Program Manager with PMC-Ethiopia. “Girls around the world face barriers and discrimination that limit who they are, what they can do, and the decisions they can make. Our programs illuminate the rights of girls in their communities, rights they may not even know they have. And we work toward the elimination of harmful practices and social norms. When women and girls win, we all win.”
Efforts to abolish FGM are not winning everywhere in the world yet.
It happens all around the world. About 200 million girls and women living today have been subject to FGM in 30 countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, including 25 million in Ethiopia. The United Nations is aiming for eradication of the practice by 2030.
The Ethiopian government has a goal of zero tolerance for FGM and child marriage by 2025. PMC’s radio and TV programs and listener groups support that goal. Listener groups discuss shows and promote their themes, sometimes networking and partnering with community and religious organizations, town officials, and schools to amplify the movement.
PMC-Ethiopia has established more than a dozen projects addressing FGM. In 2020, with funding from UNFPA/UNICEF’s Joint Programme on the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation, PMC launched Yalaleke Guzo (“Unfinished Journey”), a talk show that will be broadcast in about 100 episodes in Ethiopia through 2022. That’s the program Lamrot listens to.
Nekakat (“Cracked”), a PMC radio show depicting characters navigating these issues in a fictional story, also is making an impact in Ethiopia as it advocates against gender-based violence, arranged marriages, FGM, and child marriage and promotes family planning. The show, with funding from UNFPA/UNICEF, will include 156 episodes broadcast through 2022 and reaches about 30,000 Ethiopians.
PMC’s TV and radio programs around the world are impactful for many reasons, from format to language to broadcast time — all factors that help spark conversations which can lead to behavioral changes.
Kriss Barker, PMC Vice President of International Programs, notes that shows are designed for targeted groups, using local languages, culturally specific content, and a broadcast medium and time that suit audience preferences. Programs often are used to maximal effect as part of a comprehensive communication campaign.
“Successful use of the PMC methodology hinges on use of long-running serial drama. Format appears to play an important role in behavior change: long-running allows time for audience members to identify with characters, for characters to change their own attitudes at a believable pace, and for audience members to test the attitudinal and behavior changes themselves,” Kriss says.
Thorough research also is crucial. For example, “In designing a program for youth audiences, it is critical to understand habits, lifestyle, and school and leisure activities — and the music that will undoubtedly be playing as a ‘theme track’ during all of these various activities,” she says.
Each project includes a detailed impact evaluation to determine if objectives are being achieved.
With about 4 million girls and women at risk of FGM every year, the international development community is working to abolish the practice.
“The feminist movement for gender equality has been making significant progress in shifting minds and attitudes regarding the need to respect and fiercely uphold the rights of women and girls. That context is now heightening the attention and effort to eliminate FGM. There is also a growing understanding that cultural, religious, and social norms are not static, and it is normal and good for them to evolve with a changing society, and not hold fast to traditional patriarchal views and harmful practices,” PMC Director of Program & Partnership Development Stephanie Tholand says.
Covid-19 has increased the urgency to fight FGM because the pandemic has closed schools and programs that had sheltered girls from the practice, putting them at higher risk.
PMC is positioned as a key player in the global movement against FGM in Ethiopia and other countries — Burkina Faso, Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda — where it manages current projects that aim to eliminate this devastating practice. And PMC has an eye toward developing more related partnerships and programs to promote girls’ and women’s rights.
“PMC’s strategy for designing media interventions that sway public sentiment and behavior has proven powerful time and again. We know that we can change attitudes on deeply entrenched social norms across a country and catalyze community-wide behavior changes,” Stephanie says. “These interventions at scale can shift a culture’s stance on sensitive topics.”
Yalaleke Guzo and its radio listener groups attempt to shift Ethiopians’ stand on FGM.
That show and other PMC programs “feature girls who have said ‘no’ to FGM and child marriage, as well as religious leaders and community leaders working toward the elimination of these practices. This empowers listeners. They do not feel alone in their beliefs. It emboldens them to speak out and take action in their own communities,” Wendi says.
That’s just what happened with Lamrot. A few days before she joined the Yalaleke Guzo listener group, her family was planning her FGM ceremony after Lamrot had given in to pressure from them and peers. Once she joined the listener group, she changed her mind again for good and refused the procedure.
Lamrot is among thousands of young Ethiopians involved in about 25 listener groups that discuss Yalaleke Guzo and promote its themes in their communities. A resident of the country’s Southern Nation, Nationalities, and People’s Region, Lamrot is in the group of Ethiopian girls and women — age 15 to 49 — with the highest rate of FGM, at 65%, based on 2016 data.
Now Lamrot is motivated to take action against FGM and child marriage. She plans to form a support and advocacy group for uncircumcised girls, speak out at her school, and get involved with any campaigns against FGM and child marriage.
In a meeting she attended about the listener groups and opposing FGM, “I heard life-changing messages from the discussion and felt that I am blessed, secure, protected,” Lamrot says. “I am alone no more.”
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