The effort to abandon cutting started nearly 10 years ago in both districts. In 2008, UNICEF and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) began a joint programme to support that effort in Semera town.
The initiative culminated this past November in two separate public abandonment ceremonies and a commitment from leaders in both districts to remain vigilant.
Role of traditional leaders
The influence of religious and clan leaders, local government officials and former circumcisers has brought a remarkable reduction in female cutting in both districts. According to a study conducted in 2010 by one local partner, the Rohi Weddu Pastoralist Women's Development Organization, cutting has sharply declined in these communities over the past decade.
During the abandonment ceremony in Amibara District, Gov. Bidar Ali declared that cutting would no longer be practiced in the district. Many former circumcisers also made public promises to the community that they would not return to their former profession.
“This is a huge outcome for all of us. Our future goal is to see an overall abandonment of female genital cutting in Afar,” said UNICEF Programme Communication Specialist Tabeyin Gedlu.
Progress for girls
At a similar ceremony in Awash-Fentale District, a group of girls said they were proud to be uncut.
“It’s a huge success to see so many girls here who are proud that they are not circumcised, which would have been considered as a taboo a few years back,” noted Afar Youth Federation representative Asiya Oumer.
Mohammed Asheraye, administrator of a neighbouring district, promised to follow in the footsteps of Amibara and Awash-Fentale and declare abandonment of cutting in his district in the near future.
At the conclusion of the declaration ceremonies in both districts, awards were presented to the various governmental and non-governmental stakeholders, including UNICEF, who took a leading role in the project. Religious leaders led the crowd in promising to make female cutting history.