Ethiopia: Workshop changes attitudes
20 July 2009

Almost 80% of women have been subjected to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Ethiopia. JRS, along with other organisations, is working to educate people on the negative effects of this practice. (Peter Balleis SJ/JRS)
"This film has changed my mind, I am not going to marry a circumcised woman after seeing this."
Addis Ababa, 20 July 2009 — Refugees in Addis Ababa changed their attitude after participating in a five-day workshop on HIV/AIDS and female genital mutilation organised by the JRS Emergency Needs Programme (ENP).

The workshop took place from July 20 to 24, 2009 and was attended by twenty-seven refugees from Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Kenya. It was facilitated by three staff members of the Medical Missionaries of Mary Counseling and Social Services Center.

The workshop aimed at creating awareness on the prevalence methods of the virus, on ways to protect oneself and on renewing the commitment to halt and reverse the impact of HIV/AIDS. FGM, it was made clear, is a crime against women which makes them suffer and is not linked to any religious background. Its biological as well as sexual consequences were highlighted in an attempt to change attitudes. As it turned out, most of the Somalis did not believe in the existence of HIV/AIDS and justified FGM from a religious point of view.

Lessons during the five days included the history of the AIDS virus, its impact on the body’s immune system and the root causes of transmission. The different types of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) were looked at and ways of behavioural change, such as the avoidance of drugs and multiple sexual partners, discussed. Furthermore, the cultural and religious aspects as well as the different types of FGM and its consequences were looked into. The workshop was concluded with a film on FGM which changed attitudes towards the practice both among female and male participants. “This film has changed my mind, I am not going to marry a circumcised woman after seeing this,” said one of the participants. Others decided to protect their sisters and daughters from the cultural practice.

Changing hurtful practices

At some point a Somali girl stood up in front of the participants and witnessed that she had been circumcised at the age of seven. During that time, she had refused and had run away to avoid the practice. However, her family had run after her and after they caught her, they had tied her legs and hands and circumcised her using a razor blade without anesthesia. “I am now struggling against this bad practice not to be exercised in my family and community,” she said.

Discussions throughout the workshop were heated; participants asked various questions and were determined to share their newly gained knowledge with fellow refugees and their communities. Those who did not believe that AIDS existed admitted that the workshop had changed their mind and understanding and are now planning to set up anti-AIDS clubs in their communities. Security problems, war and discrimination were mentioned as a reason why it had not been possible for some of the participants to learn more about AIDS in their countries of origin. 

At the end of the workshop project director Ms. Hannah Petros handed out certificates to all participants.

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