SOURCE: Spotlight Initiative

SIDAMA REGION, Ethiopia - Entering adulthood can be a beautiful journey, but for those who have experienced female genital mutilation (FGM), it often carries layers of pain and trauma. FGM leaves a scar that goes beyond physical pain. It robs young girls of the opportunity to embrace womanhood on their terms. The shame and trauma often linger with them for a long time. Yet in the face of these challenges, FGM survivors show strength and resilience by reclaiming their voice and advocating for a world free of harmful practices. Below, three young women share their experiences.

Aster Fikadu experienced FGM at an early age. Bound by tradition and cultural beliefs, her family insisted that she undergo FGM. Although she barely remembers the day and procedure; she remembers the pain.

“I remember feeling pain every month and experiencing it again and again. It was a constant reminder of the practice and very hard to overcome,” says Aster.

Aster believes that her parents' decision was driven by a lack of awareness, which is why she trained to become an advocate for change. She now uses her experience to fight against the practice. Her family also advocates bringing change so that others can learn from their mistakes.

"I want to change the cultural and religious beliefs. I believe this perception is the root cause of my suffering," says Aster.

The pressure to undergo FGM often comes from family. But for Beliyu Barsamo, 20, the pressure came from her friends. They portrayed it as a rite of passage to become a well-respected woman in the community. Despite the influence, her father refused to let her undergo the practice.

Reflecting on her past, Beliyu said, “It sounds easy and simple to go through FGM, but when you hear about the consequences, it’s very difficult.” She added, “I don’t have to experience it to understand the pain.”

Beliyu now educates others about FGM and its negative impact on young girls and women. She teaches her community the physical and psychological dangers. Beliyu hopes for her community to make informed decisions and protect the rights and well-being of young girls.

Tejitu Kebede on the other hand, had a very traumatic experience. Influenced by her friends, she underwent FGM at the age of 11 years. Tejitu, now 20, emphasizes the vulnerability of young girls to peer pressure.

“My friends took me without my family’s consent to get circumcised. Peer pressure is a real issue, especially for a young girl with no understanding of FGM,” says Tejitu.

Tejitu uses her voice to empower young girls and change the perception of the men in her community. She wants men to discard their cultural beliefs and focus on what truly matters: a happy and fulfilling life. Tejitu believes that happiness comes from embracing one's rights and freedom.

“Being circumcised does not bring blessing or happiness; it brings pain and trauma,” says Tejiyu Kebede. She added, “When I see other girls, I feel sorry for myself. No one should be forced to undergo something they don’t want or understand.” 

Through the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme and Global Affairs Canada Programme, young girls, and women in the Sidama region are learning and fighting to end FGM practice. General knowledge on FGM, family planning, unplanned pregnancy, and positive coping strategies are among the topics that adolescent girls aged 10 to 19 are learning from the Spotlight Initiative-supported training.

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