Tackling Female Circumcision
By: Marni Sommer
Tackling female circumcision (otherwise known as FGM or FGC) is challenging in countries around the world. In 2009, on the international day symbolizing the global effort to stop the practice, I attended a remarkable event in Segeneiti, Eritrea. The National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW) had gathered the community from the nearby provinces to an event under the Daaro, a massive Sycamore tree long recognized as a symbolic gathering place for the community to gather for discussion and debates. The head of the NUEW, Luul Ghebreab, opened the day's event, speaking on a raised platform decorated with colorful cloths and fresh grasses, to a crowd of local villagers who had traveled from near and far to attend the event. Tigrinya women wrapped in their white and color striped dresses, scarves drawn over their heads, sat side by side with farmers in their traditional white cloths, alongside of ambassadors from various governments who had driven down from the capital, Asmara, to celebrate this anti-circumcision day. A banner strung across the back of the stage in front of the massive tree trunk read "Zero tolerance for FGM." Ms. Ghebreab's opening remarks were followed by drama and dance performed by local youths and speeches by local leaders. All the while, the scent of coffee being ceremoniously prepared, wafted across the crowd sitting comfortably in the shade of the large Daaro. After hearing the local Imam speak out against the practice, followed by the local Catholic Priest, and the local Orthodox Priest, a group of colorfully clad women stood up en masse. They were from the Saho ethnic group, who had traveled up from the southern region for this important event, and were all former "cutters" forevermore renouncing their trade. One of them explained that they had decided to renounce their trade of cutters, and then all the women solemnly raised their hands and swore an oath not to cut any more, ending their role in perpetuating the traditional practice of female circumcision. The crowd clapped enthusiastically, and then the music began, and everyone got up to dance, bobbing and weaving in a circle together, rippling and shaking their shoulders in the way that only someone growing up in that culture can do well. It was a remarkable day of national, regional and local social mobilization and collective action to end a practice dangerous to Eritrean girls and women.