In the rural village of Senbata Lencho in southern Ethiopia people are fighting the obstinate local tradition of female genital mutilation. More and more young men are marrying uncircumcised girls and even receiving the blessing of the Church and Mosque.
Radia Ledamo, a middle-aged woman from the village, shares her experiences in great detail during a community discussion. “We would put two wooden poles in the ground to which we would attach the girl’s legs,” says Radia.
“The other women would hold her arms and head, but it wouldn’t prevent things from getting messy: the girls would put up a good fight. I have miss-cut and hurt myself many times.”
But Radia and other circumcisers have recently publicly condemned cutting practices.
“We, the mothers, have taught our children these hurtful habits,” she says. “It is now our duty to prevent them from doing it and inform them of its consequences.”
Female cutting has been part of local tradition in Senbata Lencho for as long people can remember.
Just before marriage
While in most parts of the Horn of Africa country girls get circumcised at a young age, circumcision in this area traditionally takes place just before marriage.
Marrying without circumcision was not an option: uncut girls were believed to be undisciplined and clumsy. No husband would be willing to run the risk of social isolation inextricably bound up with marrying an uncircumcised girl.
To make things worse: circumcision was believed to be a religious obligation for both Christians and Muslims.
Influence of religious leaders
Berhanu Tufa, director of the African Development Aid Association (ADAA) – an NGO that aims to fight harmful practices in Senbata Lencho, says involving religious leaders was key in the fight against female circumcision.
“They are more influential than anything else,” Berhanu says. “It has been incredibly important that they publically stated that female circumcision is not mentioned in the Bible nor in the Quran and called upon their followers to stop the practice.”
“When the first Muslim couples got married without the bride being circumcised and the Imam approved of it, this really opened people’s eyes,” Berhanu says.
Female genital mutilation is illegal in Ethiopia but in order to effectively fight this deeply set practice, support of the community is essential. The community gatherings at the local school compound, organised by ADAA and executed by local youngsters, helped provide information about circumcision and its consequences and break taboos.
But what was really effective, was the fact that local youngsters put their newly gained knowledge into practice.
Banki Beru is one of the local men who married an uncircumcised girl. “We didn’t know about the scars, the pain and the complications while giving birth,” he says.
Banki recalls the heavy discussions with his fiancée, who refused his progressive idea of getting married without first being circumcised. “I convinced her,” he says. “My wife gave birth without any complications. We are happily married and I can assure you: she is not clumsy.”
“Unlike my mother, I enjoy full sexual feelings,” confesses Bezunesh Ereso, a young woman who got married recently and successfully stood up to the wish of her in-laws to get her circumcised.
The fact remains that 45.8 percent of women still experience some sort of female genital mutilation in Ethiopia, says EGLDAM, a local NGO working in the field of traditional harmful practices.
Read Part 2 of this story on Tuesday about the benefit of male circumcision in Swaziland.
Read more about sex-related topics on our site Love Matters.