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

Photogallery Belgian Security Measures Foreshadow New Normal for Europe

Rising threat of terrorism, disaffected Muslim populations and open borders, along with refugee, migrant crisis, are creating perfect storm for Europe, which some analysts fear continent is ill-suited to weather

Competing Claims of Responsibility for Mali Hotel Attack

Malian authorities ask public for help in identifying gunmen killed in attack, amid conflicting claims of responsibility from multiple jihadist groups active in the country

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs