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Female genital mutilation numbers down in Ethiopia

Press Release

Louise Robertson
Communications and Campaigns Manager
28 Too Many
Tigrai Online, October 31, 2013

Executive Summary, Ethiopia

Ethiopian woman with her child
Recently FDRE Foreign Minister Dr. Tewodros Adhanom has deliberated that our country’s relation with every country is based on a ‘mutual interest’

This Country Profile provides a detailed, comprehensive analysis of Female genital mutilation (FGM) in Ethiopia. It summarizes the research on FGM and provides information on the political, anthropological and sociological context for FGM. It also includes an analysis of the current situation in Ethiopia and draws conclusions on how to improve anti-FGM programmes and accelerate the eradication of this harmful practice. Its purpose is to enable all those committed to ending FGM to shape their own policies and practice to create positive, enduring change.

It is calculated that 23.8 million girls and women in Ethiopia have undergone Female genital mutilation. This is one of the highest national numbers in Africa, second only to Egypt (UNICEF, 2013) but the most recent data indicates that attitudes are changing and FGM is declining in Ethiopia.

According to the Demographic Health Survey (DHS), the estimated prevalence of FGM in girls and women (15-49 years) is 74.3% (DHS, 2005). This has decreased from 79.9% in 2000 (DHS, 2000), therefore showing a 5.6% decrease over 5 years. Other data (the NCTPE/EGLDAM survey) shows a decrease from 73% in 1997 to 57% in 2007, a 16% decrease over 10 years but it should be noted that there are significant regional differences in the decline in prevalence. It is also noteworthy that while the proportion of girls under the age of 15 with FGM in 2011 is estimated to be 23% (WMS), the proportion of women with one or more daughters under the age of 15 with Female genital mutilation in 2000 and 2005 was, respectively, 51.9% and 37.7% (DHS). Although some caution must be exercised with drawing conclusions from different data sets, if this trend is confirmed by subsequent surveys this is a significant decline. FGM is widespread across Ethiopia and is carried out in the majority of regions and ethnic groups. FGM is most prevalent, depending on which statistics are used for reference in the Afar region, in the north east of Ethiopia, where the rate of FGM is 91.6% (DHS, 2005) or 87.4% (EGLDAM, 2007); in the Somali region, in the south east bordering Somalia, where the rate is 97.3% (DHS, 2005) or 70.7% (EGLDAM, 2007); and Dire Dawa, where the rate is 92.3% (DHS, 2005). The prevalence rate is lowest in Gambela, a small region in western Ethiopia, with a rate of 27.1% (DHS, 2005) and Tigray in the north, with a rate of 29.3% (DHS, 2005) or 21.1% (EGLDAM, 2007). The prevalence among ethnic Somalis is high regardless of national context, with the prevalence among ethnic Somalis in Ethiopia (and Kenya) being similar to that of Somalia rather than the national rates for Ethiopia (and Kenya).

Ethiopia has a large number of distinct ethnic groups with differing concepts of identity.

Of 66 of Ethiopia’s largest ethnic groups (of 82 in total) 46 carry out FGM (EGLDAM, 2007). FGM is therefore practiced by over half of Ethiopia’s ethnic groups. The Oromo, Amhara, Somali and Tigray are all significant practicing ethnic groups. The Afar are also noteworthy given the high prevalence of FGM within the Afar region, the severity of the type of FGM (Type III infibulation), and the age at which girls are cut (often in infancy up to 8 days old).

Of those women who have undergone FGM, 8% have experienced Type III infibulation, and 92% Types I or II. Type III infibulation is most prevalent in Afar and Somali, but is also carried out to a lesser extent in Harari and Dire Dawa and other regions. There is a reported trend in areas where Type III infibulation is traditionally carried out, for some to adopt a less invasive form of Female genital mutilation.

The age at which FGM is performed in Ethiopia depends upon the ethnic group, type of FGM adopted and region. More than 52.5% of girls who undergo FGM do so before the age of 1 year (DHS, 2000). In the north, FGM tends to be carried out straight after birth whereas in the south, where FGM is more closely associated with marriage, it is performed later. Due to the diversity of ethnic groups that practice FGM, the reasons also can vary. For the Dassanach, for example, it is a marker of cultural identity, whereas for the Somali and Afar it is a perceived religious requirement, needed to ensure chastity and to prevent rape.

FGM is practiced by both of the main religions in Ethiopia - Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity and Islam. Muslim groups are more likely to practice FGM than Christian groups, with the prevalence among Muslim communities being 65.1% and that among Orthodox Christians being 45%. The prevalence of FGM among Muslims is not only higher but is also changing more slowly (EGLDAM, 2007).

Although FGM is largely carried out by traditional practitioners, it is notable that according to the 2011 WMS survey, in Addis Ababa, health workers carried out over 20% of FGM on girls under 15 surveyed, and in SNNPR and the city of Harari the figure was over 10%. This may represent a trend towards the medicalisation of FGM within Ethiopia, particularly in urban areas. Education appears to play an important role in shifting normative expectations surrounding FGM and facilitates its abandonment (UNICEF, 2013). In Ethiopia, the prevalence of FGM decreases with the level of a woman’s education. The data on the status of daughters in Ethiopia shows that 18.7% of women with secondary education have a daughter who has undergone FGM, compared to 41.3% with no education. According to the data on attitudes to Female genital mutilation, the percentage of women who support the continuance of FGM is 4.7% for women with secondary education or higher and 40.6% for women with no education.

Between 2000-2005, support for FGM has halved. In 2000 there was a recorded 60% support rate for FGM but by 2005 this had dropped dramatically to a 31% support rate (DHS). The EGLDAM data also shows a marked increase in the level of awareness of the harmful effects of FGM, from 33.6% in 1997 to 82.7% in 2007.

There are more than 82 local NGOs, CBOs, FBOs, international organizations (INGOs) and multilateral organizations working in Ethiopia to eradicate FGM. There have been strong social and political movements for the abolition of FGM, especially in urban areas, and the Ethiopian government has ensured a favorable legal and policy environment for change. The revised Criminal Code was passed in 2005 which specifically outlaws FGM and although there have been prosecutions, there is scope for greater and more effective law enforcement.

A range of initiatives and strategies have been used to end FGM. Among these are: health risk/harmful traditional practice approach; addressing the health complications of FGM; educating traditional excisors and offering alternative income; alternative rites of passage; religious-oriented approach; legal approach; human rights approach (‘Community Conversations’); promotion of girls’ education to oppose FGM; supporting girls escaping from FGM/child marriage and media influence. In Ethiopia, FGM is practiced, to a varying degree, across almost the entire country. Due to the country’s significant geographical, cultural, ethnic and religious diversity, strategies for eliminating FGM need to be both at a national level and a community level, with organizations needing to tailor anti- Female genital mutilation initiatives and strategies to take into account the particular regional circumstances.

Please read the complete report - FGM in Ethiopia

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