Why are journalists approached in Ethiopia


Local initiatives -
Reports from Ethiopia and Egypt

Alemneh Abebech

The cause of FGM lies in the unequal gender relationships. Ethiopia is a patriarchal society in which male superiority is expressed in every possible way. Even legislation such as the civil and criminal law of Ethiopia legitimize the inferiority of women in certain relationships.

In rural Ethiopia, the situation of victims of female genital mutilation is exacerbated by early marriage. Girls are married off by their families at the age of eight. Since they become pregnant very early, complications often result, which result in a particularly difficult birth lasting several days and in the development of fistulas.

FGM in Ethiopian legislation

FGM is not considered a criminal offense in Ethiopia, nor is it specified as a crime in the criminal law. Recently, however, an amendment to the Ethiopian constitution (No. 1/1995) was proclaimed, which contains the following provision in paragraph 35 (4): “The state should enforce the right of women to eliminate the influence of harmful customs. Laws, customs and practices that are oppressive or cause physical or mental harm to women are prohibited. "

In addition, Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child regulates the protection of children from all forms of physical or psychological violence, injury or abuse, mistreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse. In Article 2 (f), the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

en the abolition of all laws, rules, customs and practices that constitute discrimination against women. Ethiopia has ratified both conventions and they are considered Ethiopian law under Article 9 (4) of the Constitution.

Therefore, both the ratification of the two conventions and the prohibition of harmful traditional practices by the constitution can be described as the first initiatives to abolish FGM as a human rights violation against women.

Ethiopian government policy

Various sectors of government ministries have policies of curbing harmful traditional practices - which includes FGM.

These include the national Ethiopian women's policy, which was formulated in 1993 by the women's affairs department of the Prime Minister's office. It addresses the issue of female genital mutilation and emphasizes the need to make men and women aware of the harmful effects of FGM. This should happen in all conceivable forums, but the focus should be on schools.

As regards the implementation strategy, the directive says that the government, in cooperation with the Ethiopian people, should create conditions conducive to informing and educating communities about harmful practices such as circumcision and the marriage of young girls.

To implement this policy, women's affairs departments have been set up both in the various government ministries and in regional governments.

The government's population policy also advocates bold steps to remove all cultural and social barriers that prevent women from enjoying their fundamental human rights. In particular, it emphasizes the negative effects of childhood marriage on high maternal, infant and child mortality rates.

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In addition, health policy ensures that harmful traditional practices are contained, and FGM is part of the health education of various institutions.

One of the tasks of education policy is to educate citizens to distinguish harmful traditional practices from useful ones. That is why the school curricula also contain topics on harmful traditional practices.

The work of local NGOs

Since its inception in 1987, the National Committee on Traditional Practices of Ethiopia (NCTPE) has worked to raise public awareness of the negative effects of FGM and other practices. It has carried out the following activities and programs:

  • Research: Research is one of the methods used to identify the main harmful traditional practices. Qualitative and quantitative methods are used. There is direct contact between the researchers and the communities. This is also used to raise awareness of the effects of harmful practices in general and FGM in particular.
  • Information, education and communication materials such as leaflets, brochures, posters, t-shirts, video films, songs and theater performances were produced in various local languages ​​in order to be able to inform the population as a whole.
  • Various training programs were put in place; including training for trainers of professional groups, training on information campaigns for socially influential groups

    pen to carry out workshops and seminars for politicians, artists, journalists and others. School awareness campaigns for students and teachers are carried out in such a way as to create a network of trainers down to the district level to reach grassroots communities.

  • Information campaigns through the mass media such as radio, television and the press were carried out in different languages.
  • Monitoring and follow-up activities were started at different levels in order to be able to assess how far the interventions have reached so far and what has been achieved.

In order to be able to carry out the training and information campaigns and the follow-up, the NCTPE has opened ten regional branches, some of which coordinate the activities and some of them themselves.

The Ethiopian Association of Women Lawyers

The Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA) is a private, not-for-profit and non-partisan volunteer organization founded by Ethiopian women lawyers in 1995 to improve the legal, economic, social and political status of Ethiopian women. The objectives of the EWLA also include the elimination of all forms of legally or traditionally sanctioned discrimination against women.

The main activities of EWLA are the provision of legal assistance, research into legal and harmful traditional practices, as well as advocacy and public education.

EWLA has already conducted a study of harmful traditional practices that included FGM. In addition, she held a workshop on violence against women, organized discussions on FGM in different regions of the country and produced a radio program in the form of a narrative.

But even though female genital mutilation represents violence against women and a violation of human rights, not a single woman has come to the EWLA office to be legally represented in an FGM case. The reason: Female genital mutilation is not prohibited by law in Ethiopia. The practices are traditionally accepted. FGM is not done to harm the girl or woman, and it is impossible to charge the circumciser for assault or any other criminal offense: there is no premeditation.

That is why EWLA's work against female genital mutilation is currently limited to lobbying and campaigns to raise public awareness of the problem.

International NGOs

A number of international NGOs working on the cause of women and children in Ethiopia fund local NGOs such as the NCTPE. In addition, some of them carry out their own integrated development projects in the city or in the countryside. This includes awareness programs about FGM and other harmful traditional practices.

These NGOs have started a whole range of different activities to promote the principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and to promote respect for children's rights and prevent child abuse. They have conducted various workshops and produced posters, t-shirts, etc. to raise awareness of child abuse that includes FGM to the public, government institutions, local community organizations, health workers, teachers, religious leaders, youth and women .

The work of the ministries

Although the government's programs against female genital mutilation cannot be described as significant, the various relevant ministries have started anti-FGM activities. The advisors of the farmer

Ministry of Economic Affairs educate farmers about the negative effects of harmful traditional practices. The Ministry of Information also disseminates information on this subject. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has created a forum for awareness campaigns. The Ministry of Health is integrating FGM into its health education programs.

The commitment of the UN organizations

Over the past few decades, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) have promoted intergovernmental cooperation on this issue, as well as promoting NGO movements and specific activities at the country level to promote FGM and eliminate other harmful traditional practices.

UNICEF has been supporting the NCTPE financially since 1996 in its work in the four regions of eastern Oromiya, where female genital mutilation is still widespread.

UNFPA has financially supported the NCTPE in the production of materials. The WHO and the NCTPE also worked together to implement the regional action plan for the elimination of FGM.


The further fight against FGM should concern all women and men, and a lot of work is expected from all to raise awareness against female genital mutilation, teach human rights and bring about behavioral changes - both in society, but especially in families .

Independently of this lobbying work, a law is needed that prohibits female genital mutilation and legally protects girls and women from this violence.

Aida Seif El Dawla

The fight against FGM began long before the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in 1995. Local efforts to eradicate genital mutilation date back to the 1920s [Fn 1: Wassef, N. Da Min Zaman: "Past and Present Discourses on FGM", Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung 1998 (in Arabic)] .
However, the ICPD was an important milestone in the history of and debates on genital mutilation.

Circumcision was repeatedly taken up in the preparations for the population conference by several organizations: from a health policy and from a feminist point of view, as well as from the aspect of reproductive health.

But the turning point was marked by the broadcast of a documentary by CNN that showed a young Egyptian girl being subjected to FGM. The day before, the Egyptian health minister had declared that FGM was a rare practice in Egypt. The CNN documentary led the minister not only to condemn FGM (a positive statement) but also to promise the international community - and not his own people - that he would pass a law to criminalize FGM.

So the Cairo conference offered new actors an opportunity to take the stage: the state, the Islamists, and the medical community. All of these actors have since played an important role in the battle over genital mutilation. The dispute also shifted from the abstract arena known as tradition to the concrete field of action of political bodies

Impetus from the Cairo Population Conference

After the population conference, the NGO Committee for Population and Development was given permanent status by the then Ministry of Population and Development in order to carry out the follow-up for the recommendations of the ICPD. Marie Assad, a member of the committee, suggested that the group of NGOs and individuals interested in working against female circumcision form a task force to be attached to the National Committee on Population and Development.

The FGM Taskforce was officially founded in October 1994 - with Marie Assad as coordinator. Its members came from a variety of backgrounds: organizations, individuals, independent researchers, and women and men, all from the fields of development, women's rights, human rights, health, education and legal aid. This diversity is part of the strength of the task force, which can guarantee a multi-disciplinary approach in the work against FGM. A monthly meeting has been held since November 1994 and the membership has grown to 60 organizations.

The first task the task force tackled was to develop a common position on FGM. It was agreed to completely reject female circumcision - regardless of who performs it and how much is removed. This decision was accompanied by heated discussions, in which the position was taken to allow the medicalization of FGM until the eradication of this practice is achieved in order to prevent non-professional circumcisions from being carried out. The second decision concerned the question of what female circumcision should be addressed as in the future - namely, as what it actually includes: female genital mutilation. It was agreed that this name should be used for lobbying and advocacy activities, while local activists should be free to choose which language best suits their purposes.

The first activities of the task force concerned the organization of a conference under the auspices of the then Ministry of Population and Development. This was carried out in March 1995 and an agenda was adopted on how to approach the problem in the future. Although the agenda was not implemented as originally conceived, the meeting helped identify the various parties involved.

Problem of medicalization

One of the first challenges the task force faced was the ministerial decree issued shortly after the ICPD. For the first time in Egyptian history, this decree allowed for FGM to be carried out as long as it was carried out in state hospitals. It was hoped that medicalization would be a step on the way to abolishing this tradition. The edict led to confusion and increased the perception of many that what was really harmful about this practice was its implementation by laypeople. The decree also meant a withdrawal from the government's original position.

Now the campaign against the medicalization of FGM played a central role in the work of the task force. The task was difficult given the power of medical institutions, out of which the voices that spoke out clearly in favor of the practice overshadowed those who were more intelligent.

The activities of the task force were no longer limited to

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grassroots work, but involved negotiations and lobbying with the ministry. A few weeks later this brought out an announcement in which it was stated that there was no longer any reason for carrying out FGM in hospitals because the previous policy had succeeded in greatly reducing the frequency of the tradition. To the best of our knowledge, however, this announcement was not issued in the form of a decree and was not passed on to the health departments like the first decree.

The newspapers now regularly reported the deaths of girls who had been circumcised by doctors. In the end, the total number was 11 cases over the course of a year. The change of minister then also brought about a change in politics: On July 8, 1996, the Ministry of Health published a decree (Decree # 261/1996) which completely banned FGM.

FGM is the subject of legal disputes

This ministerial decree was challenged by the proponents of FGM, who went to court on the grounds that such a decree was beyond its jurisdiction. The minister lost in the first instance, which very disappointed many activists.Without the support of the state position, a new campaign had to be designed - this time under difficult circumstances. A second negative effect of the court decision was the passionate reactions from organizations and official bodies in the countries of the north. In their - justified - disappointment with the decision of the court, they tried to intervene in various ways, or to demonstrate 'solidarity', which were not with the national

Ideas about how to solve the problem were agreed. The efforts of the task force therefore had to be divided up: on the one hand, the court decision was fought at local level, but on the other hand, the sensationalisation of the judgment had to be prevented and proposals for intervention averted that would have meant a severe setback in the Egyptian fight against FGM.

To this end, the Task Force produced its first official statement, known as the Task Force's "Position Paper", which appeared on December 9, 1997. First, the clear rejection of FGM was emphasized again in the paper, as well as the rejection of any justification for the practice as well as its medicalization. Understanding was then expressed for the social reasons that help keep this tradition alive. But the commitment to addressing these reasons and changing the situation was also highlighted. Finally, the international community was addressed and thanked for its solidarity. But it was also asked that this solidarity should not take any form that would undermine local efforts.

It was a great success for the task force against FGM when, a few months later, the administrative court passed a judgment in favor of the Ministry of Health and thus renewed the ban on FGM. The remaining challenge on this front is a provision of this decree that "the practice is prohibited unless there is an indication for it as determined by the chair of the gynecological department." The Task Force regards this provision as a dangerous loophole that has yet to be plugged.

© Friedrich Ebert Foundation | technical support | net edition fes-library | May 2000