Last week, Reza Aslan spoke about FGM/FGC in his debate with Bill Maher. I absolutely loved the smackdown, but was also concerned that Aslan wasn’t overly clear in his comments about Eritrea and FGM/GC. For the record, FGM/FGC – a harmful traditional practice found in parts of Africa and the Middle East – was outlawed in 2007, although efforts to eradicate it were in place during Eritrea’s pre-independence era (ie. early 1970s). Like another traditional, harmful practice, child marriage, not only is it a women’s, child, and human rights issue, it can place females at a high risk for HIV/AIDS through several causal pathways.
Beyond abolishment, Eritrea has also promoted support, awareness, educational, prevention, and recovery programs in both urban and rural areas. Consequently, FGM prevalence rates have decreased, women’s and children’s rights have been better protected, and potential risk factors for HIV/AIDS have been prevented.
Images: Community awareness and Swearing an Oath against FGM/FGC (Eritrea)
Most exciting, however, are the recent trends. Eritrea has witnessed a change in behaviors/attitudes, and an associated change in prevalence. In some research I’m doing, I’ve come across some amazing figures. Most prominently, in several large population groups/regions, prevalence can range as low as 30%-15% (or below) for girls 15 years old or younger. Considering the practice is a socio-cultural one, dating centuries old, my humble opinion is that this is quite significant, and not inconsequential. The other important thing is that this change is a local initiative, led by women (especially NUEW), although receiving utmost support from the community.