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Amibara and Awash Fentale Districts in the Afar Regional State declared on November 11 and 13 respectively the abandonment of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) at public declaration ceremonies held to mark the occasions.

Amibara and Awash Fentale are among six intervention districts covered by the Joint Programme on the Accelerated Abandonment of FGM/C being implemented by the Afar Region Bureau of Women's Affairs, the Afar Pastoralist Development Association, and the Rohi Weddu Pastoralist Women's Development Organization with the support of  the  United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and UNICEF for the past two years.

"Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting violates the right to health, security and physical integrity of the person, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death," noted Benoit Kalasa, UNFPA Country Representative. "Working towards the abandonment of FGM/C requires a thorough exploration of the beliefs and values that underpin the practice and involving entire communities."

Ethiopia is among 17 countries across Africa where the Joint UNFPA/UNICEF Programme is being implemented. The Joint Programme aims to accelerate the abandonment of FGM/C by expanding existing efforts and to declare at least one country FGM/C free by 2012. Afar region, where the Joint Programme is being implemented in Ethiopia, ranks second in the prevalence of FGM/C in the country (after Somali Region) with a prevalence rate of 92 per cent, according to the Demographic and Health Survey conducted in 2005. In Afar region, women have traditionally been subjected to the most severe form of the practice, infibulations, usually between the ages of seven and nine.

A number of initiatives have been undertaken to upgrade awareness and put in place structures for the abandonment of FGM/C in the intervention districts of the Joint Programme. A Consensus Building Conference was held in Zone 3 of Afar Region in 2009 among regional, district, and sub-district government and administration officials who unanimously agreed to promote community dialogue in their respective communities on the abandonment of FGM/C; pledged to play an exemplary role in their community by not circumcising their own children; and agreed to introduce and enforce the anti-FGM/C legislation after the communities reached a consensus on abandonment.

Anti-FGM committees were set up at the sub-district level comprising the clan leader, a community elder, former circumcisers, and the Kadi (local judge). Anti-FGM village committees were also set up composed of two former circumcisers, a village elder, clan leader, and the religious leader in the community to teach the community on the consequences of FGM/C and report cases when they see evidence of it.

Uncircumcised and newborn girls are being registered, a record which serves as a follow-up mechanism to protect them. The registers are reported on a quarterly basis. Recent figures show that the number of uncircumcised girls in the six intervention woredas of the Joint Programme has reached 4,000. This is unprecedented in the region.

"With today's public declaration of the abandonment of Female Genital Mutilation or Cutting, a new chapter opens for girls of Amibara District," said Tabeyin Gedlu, UNICEF Project Specialist. "Following an intense process of dialogue and discussion, the entire community has rallied to say no more to the ancient practice that has caused so much pain and suffering for countless generations of women and girls, and in two days time Awash Fentale will also declare abandonment. A new era is dawning for these communities and we urge vigilance in the days and months ahead to make sure that these hard earned commitments are not compromised."

A two-day meeting of the regional anti-FGM/C network of governmental and civil society organizations - established to create a common understanding and approach in the quest to achieve total abandonment - is taking place parallel to the public declarations.