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Ethiopian women’s pain: FGM, rape and other horrors

Although violence against women and discrimination are endemic, incidents are not generally reported due to the acceptance, shame, fear or ignorance about legal protection for victims.


 Richard Ruíz Julién


In the small town of Site, in Woleyta, 20-year-old Belinesh is explaining the ritual that they are subjected to when they are little girls: “Early in the morning, four women take you under a tree, they grab you from behind, they hold your legs and the woman in charge of doing it cuts you with a knife. Afterwards, they put kerosene on your wound to stop the bleeding and butter which acts as a protective barrier”.

Almas Kassa also tells of her experience: “They married me off at 13 years old to a man that I didn’t love, and he didn’t love me either. He abused me as well. But he also raped me several times a day. I hate men”.

“It wasn’t just that I didn’t feel pleasure but it caused me immense pain and bleeding, he carried on. They performed FGM on me. I share a husband with another three poor women. I have five children, three died before reaching four years of age. I am very ill. I have AIDS. I think that my husband has hit me, the one that I share with three women and even more lovers.”

Abused, raped, mutilated, silenced, ignored…, thousands of women in Ethiopia face the challenge of changing the status quo that has always assigned them an inferior role or to raise their voices to assert their rights.

Nevertheless, today the smiling image of Marta Abarra is all over the front pages of the press: she is not a doctor, or a lawyer, or an engineer but, according to experts, she could be one of the symbols of progress in Ethiopia.

Abarra’s work for more than five years in the battle against one of the greatest challenges of this nation: female genital mutilation (FGM), has borne results: in her cafeteria in southern Ethiopia, almost a hundred women who have faced clitoral circumcision meet there daily.

According to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) figures, this is the country with the second highest rate of this evil in Africa, which affected 23.8 million girls and is recognised as a human rights violation.

At the same time, the WHO indicated that effects such as pain and prolonged bleeding, infections, infertility, shock and often death go hand-in-hand with this practice.

Longer term, women face a life of disfiguration and a series of medical problems, which includes urinary complications and with birth. Painful menstruation, sexual dysfunction and psychological problems are also associated.

The non-governmental agency, Oxfam Intermon (OI), specialising in water and sanitation, is introducing the component of gender into its projects, promoting equality, education and sensitivity to abolish violence against women: from forced marriages to female circumcision.

Imma Guixé, director of OI in Ethiopia, says that there still “exists cultural, religious and other types of barriers, especial in the rural world, where 85% of the population lives, which limits the progress of equality”.

One of the most worrying issues is mutilation, practically eradicated in urban centres such as Addis Ababa, but very extensive and accepted in the interior.

Types I, II and III of FGM are practiced depending on the area where they live and the age at which it is carried out. The objective is to make them docile, so that they do not enjoy sex, that they are only a reproductive machine.

In reality they suffer with sexual relations. In some zones, it consists of a cut to the lower part of the clitoris of teenage girls; in other regions, like Oromia, they remove it entirely and at an
even younger age, from the age of five. In other areas they remove part of the labia majora and minora.

For example, in the region of Somalia, they also close the vagina with stitches, leaving only a small opening and when they are married the threads are pulled out.

The 2005 Penal Code considers different types of domestic violence as crimes. In the case of FGM, it fixes penalties of a minimum of three months in prison or fines from 500 birrs (20 euros).

For abduction, rape, forcing a minor to get married, the sentences rise to 15 years.

17% of the Ethiopian women who answered a survey, cited by UN Women, said that their first sexual experience was forced.

Although violence against women and discrimination are endemic, incidents are not generally reported due to the acceptance, shame, fear or ignorance about legal protection for victims. In spite of some advances in prevention, there is still a lot to be done. Specialists know that there is no continuous programme in existence to create awareness of the impact of FGM, whether that is through governmental or private means. (PL)

(Translated by Donna Davison. Email: Pixabay

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