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FGM/C Free Communities: Asmat and Habero Leading by Example

In a few days, the world will observe the International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate women’s achievements and to bring awareness on issues women and girls face frequently in addition to calling for gender equality. While many countries worldwide do not include March 8 as a national holiday, Eritrea, does.

In fact, as the International Women’s Day has been celebrated since the early 1900’s in some parts of the world, challenges still remain which give reasons for March 8 to be observed every year.

As such, campaigns, events, seminars, and forums are held worldwide and Eritrea has already been active in the campaign against Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C) and other harmful practices. This has been done through media programs and seminars at schools and workplaces among other activities. In such programs, specialists on this area and other concerned people have been involved in awareness raising campaigns.

On the occasion of March 8, it is time to raise awareness on specific gender related issues and harmful practices such as FGM/C, achievements, challenges and the way forward with specific focus on the Eritrean case and the recently launched FGM/C Free Community in the country.

In here, I would like to reiterate what I had written on my previous article of October 29, 2016, “the eradication of FGM/C is of paramount importance as it constitutes a critical social, health and human rights issue. The practice of mutilating, cutting or even sewing the genital parts of the young girl can cause infections and heavy pain. It may also affect and be detrimental to fertility”.

While the African continent remains the place where the prevalence of such practices continues to rate high, understanding its health, psychological, physiological, emotional, social and economic impact is important. Accordingly, fighting against this breach of human right issue has been key in Eritrea starting from the time of the armed struggle. The Female Circumcision Abolition Proclamation No 158/2007, is just a proof. The Government of Eritrea knows better that without the involvement of all layers of society, policies and regulations won’t register success. As a result, under the leadership of the National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW), partners from UN agencies, Ministries and other government bodies are working hand-in-hand with local communities.

In point of fact, implementing national policies that affect the local community is a work in progress which needs constant monitoring and campaigning. Fighting against these harmful practices start by changing the minds of both gender especially in the most remote areas.

The Anseba region, thus is exemplary on this issue. This area of Eritrea used to be known for its widespread practices on FGM/C and has managed to have two of its sub-regions declared FGM/C free. Thus, on the occasion of March 8, it is important to bring up this success and the mechanism implemented to be the first community free of such practices in the whole country.

To achieve such goal in fact, it requires an active multi-sectorial approach from the zoba level down to the sub-zoba, known as ‘kebabi’ level committees and village promoters. The multi-sectorial committees are, then, able to facilitate the process and communities are empowered by exercising their competences in identifying the harms and consequences of FGM/C within their own communities. Besides the communities, health professionals and policy makers are given the task of facilitation, guidance and provision of scientific evidence. Such activities made it easy to gather evidences from the victims exposed to such harmful practices and the impact they had within their respective households.

Many would probably wonder how communities are declared FGM/C free and in fact, evidences were collected through surveys. This scientific approach was made possible by reaching every household via a ‘promoter’ (komawi tebegiso adi’ in Tigrinya). The inclusion of a local member of the community in the program greatly facilitates the work and helps in sensitizing individuals.

In numbers, 72 villages and 18 ‘kebabis’ within the sub-zobas of Asmat and Habero have declared themselves FGM/C free community today. The impact of this multi-sectorial effort to eradicate FGM/C was measured through date collection starting from 2008 until 2015. In my previous paper entitled Shame on those Carrying out FGM/C on Our Daughters”, Say Village Dwellers…, I stated that among those below 5 years old, about 25.6% or 941 girls were victims of FGM/C. The number dropped to 4% in 2012 with only 207 being affected.

This further decreased to 2% in 2015.

Furthermore, the table below presented by the Department of Social Services of the Anseba Region, at the official celebration in Keren on February 23rd this year, the percentage to reach zero to be able to declare FGM/C free community has steadily reached within a period of seven years.

Asmat and Habero are examples to follow not only in Eritrea but also in the Horn of Africa region by first understanding the key reasons of such success.

All stakeholders including the local government, the administration of the sub zoba, the ‘kebabi’ and village showed their commitment and by creating a smooth access to community by enhancing a sense of ownership of the issue. Mobilizing local communities was possible by sensitizing and giving an in-depth knowledge of the negative impact of such harmful practices. Ensuring the empowerment of communities by helping them identify relevant problems and bringing solutions was also one of the key reasons, for success quarterly meetings at zoba level and monthly reports from each kebabi were conducted including annual report with national and UN partners.

Clearly, ensuring an all-inclusive approach in combating FGM/C within the Anseba region have shown positive results in one of the most prone areas to such harmful practices. Fighting against the violation of women and girls’ rights continue to be a priority for the Government of Eritrea and civic society groups such as NUEW along with the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students (NUEYS).

While Eritrea celebrates two FGM/C Free communities, many others are awaiting to follow the same path. Thus, continued monitoring and support to communities as well as duplicating the similar strategic planning through experience sharing and campaigning have to be strengthened. Upholding the momentum and accelerating the process for full eradication nationwide will be the challenge and highlight of the upcoming International Women’s Day in Eritrea.

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