Just over 13 years ago, two young Ethiopians took the brave decision to challenge FGM by becoming the first couple in their community to openly marry without the wife undergoing the practice. Kiram from Youth For Change Ethiopia met with them to hear their story.
Addise, 20, and Genet, 18, were both Grade 7 students from ordinary Kembata families who declared their plan to start a family – a family somehow different from others in the neighborhood.
It was 13 years ago in Kembata, in Ethiopia's Southern Region, some 361 km away from the capital Addis Ababa. Female genital mutilation (FGM) was widespread - there was a door-to-door promotion against the practice carried out by the Kembatta Women's Self-Help Center, a local non-governmental organization (NGO).
Genet was the lone unmutilated girl in the neighborhood. She was lucky, for her parents had some clue about the bad impacts of the practice.
"At that time all the girls experienced mutilation…but my parents had consciousness about the issue and hence I was able to be freed from the practice"
The first FGM-free marriage
The couple made a decision to start a family publicly known as the first FGM-free marriage in the community - the local NGO stepped in to promote her husband’s initiative to take her as a wife, and forerunner on issue.
There was mass gathering on their wedding date - rumors of their deeds had already spread in the neighborhood. Following their church blessing, their wedding ceremony was set to be held at the school compound, for the crowd was uncontrollable. However, there were some individuals even from the church community who weren't happy about their union.
Community backlash & Changing attitudes
“It was never easy for me to take an unmutilated girl as a wife at that time, when community members were speaking out against me” says Addise. Their choice was also not welcomed by their parents, and they were forced to move away from where they used to live - due to pressure they decided not to visit their parents for some time.
Despite the challenges, Addise says he wouldn't change his decision. “I defend my stand of marrying an unmutilated girl. When it comes to the life over the past 13 years with my wife, I’ve learned a lot about the issue” said Addise.
Genet says that her friends used to challenge her for she was not mutilated like them. Nevertheless Genet was happier than any of them. Now, the attitudes of some have changed “…over time they have come to understand the conditions and experience the health issues. Now my friends are humbled by what they used to say.”
“I had a very normal and healthy labor while I gave birth to our two kids which is simply because I am not mutilated. I am so happy and proud of that. I also become an example for the community - more and more couples are deciding not to mutilate their youngsters, at least in more urban areas” says Genet.
A local and international example
Because the couples pioneering story motivated steps towards abandoning the practice, some months after their wedding, the NGO provided them a chance to visit the United States for a month.
“The social pressure I faced from my parents were challenging…it was difficult time for me, but things start to change as we were both invited to visit America,” says Addise.
Addise and Gernet joined a speaking tour organized by Equality Now, which highlighted young people from Africa who has rejected FGM, and who are working to tackle the practice in their communities.
Today, their story has become a major exemplary tool in serving the Kembata community to abandon FGM as a harmful traditional practice. A week ago they were recognized in a public gathering, organized in Durame town, as the first couple to form an FGM-free family in the community.
The couples now run a happy family with their two – 12 and 7 years old - children. The elder daughter, Wima, wants to become a medical doctor. “…because I want to treat people.” she says. These days most of her school friends are not mutilated. We can only hope that more inspirational stories like these emerge, which help to show communities that harmful traditional practices like FGM can, and should, be bought to an end.