News / Africa

Ethiopian Activist Recognized for Fight Against Female Genital Mutilation

Masai girl holds protest sign during anti-Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) run in Kilgoris, KenyaMasai girl holds protest sign during anti-Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) run in Kilgoris, Kenya
Masai girl holds protest sign during anti-Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) run in Kilgoris, Kenya
Masai girl holds protest sign during anti-Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) run in Kilgoris, Kenya
Selah Hennessy

An Ethiopian activist who has worked to support women’s rights and battle female genital mutilation has been awarded an international prize in Europe.

Bogaletch Gebre founded Kembatti Mentti Gezzima-Tope in the 1990s. The organization’s name translates as Kembatti Women Stand Together.

The group has a unique approach to tackling women’s rights in Bogaletch’s home country, Ethiopia.

The principle, she says, is that going into rural areas and telling people what to do will not work. Instead, the organization facilitates conversations, with community leaders joining together to reach consensus over issues that impact the community.

She says HIV/AIDS is an important entry point into broader discussions about practices that harm women.

Her organization provides basic information -- including, for example, that HIV is transmitted by blood. From there the conversation might develop into one about the risks linked to genital mutilation.

"The fact that the circumciser or traditional surgeon cuts girls with one blade, three, four, five girls at a time, and without sterilization, and also she does not wash her hands properly -- the possibility if one girl is infected that the rest of the girls will be infected, we start with that," Bogaletch said.

From there, she says, a conversation will develop about the causes, the reasons why female genital mutilation is done. She says when the question "Why are we mutilating?" is posed, the community typically has a long list of reasons.

"The community starts: 'well this, this, and this are the reasons.' But then, these reasons are not in the bible. It is not part of our culture. It is not in the Quran. And as Christians and Muslims and people who fear God, how can we destroy something God has created? That reasoning comes," Bogaletch said.

Female genital mutilation, or FGM, typically involves removing the clitoris and can lead to bleeding, infections and childbirth problems.

Data released by the United Nations earlier this year shows that the practice is declining in Africa and the Middle East.

Bogaletch says for most communities she works with, making the decision to end cutting is a long process. Practices that have been entrenched for many generations, she says, take a long time to break.

But in the areas where her organization has worked, it’s credited with bringing female circumcision on pre-adolescents down from 100 percent to 3 percent in just 10 years. Other international organizations, including U.N. groups, are hoping to replicate the approach elsewhere in Africa.

Bogaletch was born in Ethiopia and was the first girl in her area to finish primary school. She later went to university in Jerusalem to study microbiology and then on to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in the United States.

Her organization takes a holistic approach that tries to address a whole range of issues.

"As a scientist you start thinking scientifically about the interconnectedness of things. You have to link the ecological problems, the economic problems, the social problems and address their day-to-day life in their area," Bogaletch said.

The Belgium-based King Baudouin Foundation says it awarded Bogaletch Gebre the prize, which is worth almost $600,000, because of her "innovative" campaign to end FGM.

You May Like

Video Egyptian Journalists Call for Press Freedom

Despite release of al-Jazeera journalists and others, Egyptian Journalist Syndicate says some remain imprisoned More

Turkey Survey Indicates Traditional Distrusts, Shift to the West

Comprehensive public opinion survey also found a large majority of those interviewed distrust all countries other than country’s neighbor, Azerbaijan More

Pakistan Court Upholds Death Sentence in Blasphemy Killing

Highest court upholds sentence of Mumtaz Qadri convicted of 2011 killing a provincial governor for criticizing country’s controversial blasphemy law More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making a Minti
October 07, 2015 4:17 AM
While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video Self-Driving Cars Getting Closer

We are at the dawn of the robotic car age and should start getting used to seeing self-driving cars, at least on highways. Car and truck manufacturers are now running a tight race to see who will be the first to hit the street, while some taxicab companies are already planning to upgrade their fleets. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Clinton Seeks to Boost Image Before Upcoming Debate

The five announced Democratic party presidential contenders meet in their first debate next Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field, but she is getting a stronger-than-expected challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Video Music Brings Generations Together

When musicians over the age of 50 headline a rock concert, you expect to see baby boomer fans in the audience. Boomer rock stars have boomer fans. Millennial rock stars have millennial fans. But this isn’t always the case. Take the Lockn’ Music festival which took place in mid-September in rural Arrington, Virginia. Here, Jacquelyn de Phillips discovered two generations of people who are considered quite different in the outside world, spending 4 days together in music-loving harmony.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video South Carolina Reels Under Worst-ever Flooding

South Carolina is reeling from the worst flooding in recorded history that forced residents from their homes and left thousands without drinking water and electricity. Parts of the state, including the capital, Columbia, received about 60 centimeters of rain in just a couple of days. Authorities warn that the end of rain does not mean the end of danger, as it will take days for the water to recede. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs