Ethiopia: Changing perceptions about health and FGM
12 September 2011

Participants of the recent workshop on health and Female Genital Mutilation listen attentively to their facilitator. For many, it was the first time to participate in such a workshop. (Azale Gulilat/JRS)
"Now that I know about the consequences of FGM I will not repeat the same mistake my ancestors made."
Addis Ababa, 12 September 2011 – Thirty asylum seekers and undocumented refugees learned how to stay healthy by participating in a four-day workshop organised by JRS on how to promote health and prevent diseases in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

"We have noticed a huge need for health education among asylum seekers in Addis," said JRS Emergency Needs Programme Director, Hanna Petros. "One of the clinics we work with told us that most of the diseases they treat are related to poor sanitation, poor feeding habits and lack of a balanced diet," she added. 

The workshop aimed to raise awareness about the importance of personal hygiene, environmental sanitation, proper food preparation and feeding habits. Participants learned about causes, transmission and effects of infectious diseases, including sexually transmitted diseases, and how they can protect themselves. Maternal and child health care formed another major part of the training.

Participants came from Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Eritrea, Burundi and Kenya and were between 19 and 26 years old. They shared their stories openly, prompting lively discussions throughout the four days. 

Raising awareness about Female Genital Mutilation

The workshop also raised awareness about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as a criminal act against women, violating their fundamental human rights. Types of FGM, immediate and long-term biological and sexual consequences as well as cultural and social reasons for the practice were discussed, urging participants to reject it.

"Women who have become victims of genital mutilation are suffering terribly during labour because the periphery of the vaginal opening does not widen as usual when giving birth," explained Ms Petros. 

In a drama, Somali women demonstrated the stigma attached to a circumcised woman, who is rejected by a man who chooses to marry another, uncircumcised one instead, assuming she can give him more love and sexual pleasure. 

"FGM is widely practiced in Somalia", said one of the women. "We do it to keep our girls virgin until they marry and to reduce their sexual pleasure so they don't have sex with anyone but her husband. This workshop made me realise that, because of being circumcised, most women do not feel any love for their husbands. That is why most Somali men neglect or divorce their wives after some time and marry another", she added. 

Changing perceptions among refugees

As was revealed in the evaluation, 80 percent of participants said the workshop exceeded their expectations. "The knowledge I gained will help me to keep me and my family healthy and happy", said a Somali woman. 

"I now understand why FGM is a bad practice. I will fight it and spread that lesson among those who could not participate in this workshop", said a Sudanese refugee. 

"It is my first time to participate in such a workshop. I have never heard of FGM before but now I understand why it is harmful and that is has to stop", said one man from Burundi. 

"I have learnt a lot of things that I didn't know before", said a woman from Kenya. "Now, I can take care of my daughter and I will make sure she never gets circumcised."

"Now that I know about the consequences of FGM I will not repeat the same mistake my ancestors made," said an Eritrean woman. 

The workshop was facilitated by Tesfaye Gedu, who has a medical background and is a member of the Ethiopia TransACTION project, a USAID funded HIV prevention and care services programnme targeting most at risk groups.

 "We will keep offering such workshops in order to raise awareness on various issues" said JRS Ethiopia Director, Seyoum Asfaw, while handing over certificates to all participants at the end of the workshop. 

The workshop formed part of a series of workshops held by the JRS Emergency Needs Programme in Addis Ababa to change perceptions and promote change within the refugee community. By participating in the workshops, 150 refugees will have better knowledge in basic business skills, gender mainstreaming, female genital mutilation and prevention of diseases and family planning by the end of 2011.

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