22.05.2024 Heidi Suotsalo

It’s time to break taboos in Ethiopia 

Reading time: 6 min

Amal Mohamed Muse hopes that female genital mutilation will not be such a taboo in Ethiopia. Work will soon begin in the Somali region which could lead to the end of this practice.

“I would like to see the day that girls will publicly talk about FGM”, says Solidarity’s expert Amal Mohamed Muse. “So now even me as a Gender-based violence field coordinator, I can’t just go to media and talk about FGM. There’s still a kind of taboo.” 

Muse coordinates ISF’s work that aims to end violence against women and girls in Ethiopia, focusing specifically on ending female genital mutilation. In the Somali region, 99 percent of girls and women undergo genital mutilation. Yet, it is a subject few dare to talk about. Muse would like to see role models and activists opposing FGM in the region, who could serve as inspirations for young girls. 

Currently, International Solidarity Foundation’s experts are making plans with three local partner organizations. Work will start in the fall. One important part of planning is to find the best approaches. Muse believes it is a great advantage in her work that she herself is from the region. “I know the community. I know the culture. I know the area and I know what’s happening here,” she says. 

FGM is caused by inequality

Inequality is one of the root causes of FGM practice. Muse explains that in Somali culture men are often prioritized, and women practically have no chance to participate in decision-making. “Women are not seen in higher positions,” Muse says. “It doesn’t matter how educated you are or how successful you are in your career. They think that you will end up as a housewife at some point.” 

Narrow gender roles have influence on girls’ lives. “When you are a girl, when you come home from school, you are supposed to help your mother. But if you are male, when you come back from school you will have time to watch TV, you will have time to play. Then you will have time to also read or do your exercises,” Muse says. While girls’ time is spent on household chores, boys can get ahead in school. 

However, Muse emphasizes that women are valued in Somali culture. She also sees the situation changing: “What I’ve seen from Somali region is that now we are moving forward to where women can be in higher positions. Women are nominated for higher positions.” 

Ending FGM 

International Solidarity Foundation has two decades of experience in working against FGM. The tools that have been proven to be effective, will also be used in Ethiopia. Changing attitudes requires expertise and diverse approaches. The target group must also be chosen carefully. It is important that girls understand their rights, but they do not make decisions about being cut. 

“Their mothers and fathers are the ones who are going to change that,” Muse says. “Grandparents also have a role there. — I might not be able to make decisions about my daughter because my grandmother is there also trying to influence the decisions.” 

Therefore, in ISF’s work, parents and grandparents are a central target group. “One organization has already tried something called generational dialect, like bringing the old generation and younger generation to discuss together.” Muse talks about the approaches used in Kenya by ISF and methods used by other organization that fits the Somali context and culture, which she would like to use in Ethiopia’s Somali region as well. “It requires extensive training so that you could lead those kinds of dialogues.” 

Hopeful about the future 

Muse is hopeful about the future. There is a lot of work, but this is exactly what she wants to do: prevent violence against women and girls. Muse dreams of a day when women can decide for themselves and openly discuss FGM. Motivation also comes from home: “I have a daughter. I don’t want her to go through everything I’ve experienced, and I don’t want her to experience the things many girls experience in Somali culture.” 


Amal Mohamed Muse

Gender-based violence field coordinator 

Has graduated as a nurse and has a master’s degree in public health. 

Works in Jijiga, Ethiopia, in the Somali region

Previously worked in healthcare, including mental health and HIV, as well as in support services for victims of gender-based violence. 

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