Female genital mutilation practice persists in many parts of Ethiopia, and much work remains to be done to make good on the government’s promise.

By Amy Yee (Pulitzer Center) |

Worldwide, it is estimated that 200 million girls and women have undergone female genital mutilation, a bloody ritual involving the removal or non-medical destruction of the external genitalia. The rationale for the practice, which remains common in parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, and is globally recognized as a human rights violation, varies from region to region, though it is rooted in cultural efforts to govern and control female sexuality.

The practice can take a number of forms, from clitoridectomies, which involve the partial or total removal of the clitoris or, rarely, the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris; excisions, which remove both the clitoris and the labia minora and in some cases the labia majora; and what’s known as infibulation, which involves the narrowing of the vagina by cutting and repositioning the labia, sometimes with stitching, to form a seal over the vaginal opening.

In the short term, these and other associated practices — which include all manner of “pricking, piercing, incising, scraping, and cauterizing” the female genital area, according to the World Health Organization — result in severe pain and bleeding, infections, shock and sometimes death. Longer term, women face a lifetime of disfigurement and a host of health problems, including urinary and childbirth complications, painful menstruation, sexual dysfunction, and associated psychological problems.

In 2015, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals included efforts to stop female genital mutilation worldwide, and Ethiopia itself officially criminalized the practice more than a decade ago — but breaking down cultural barriers has taken time. Four years ago, acknowledging that the practice remained widespread despite the ban, the Ethiopian government launched a national plan to stop female mutilation. It followed up in 2014 with a pledge at the U.K.- and Unicef-sponsored Girl Summit in London to end female genital mutilation entirely by 2025.

Tsehay Gette, a program officer with United Nations Population Fund in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, suggested that these efforts are working. “There is promising progress to reach the goal,” she said.

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