‘One hand can’t clap by itself’: engagement of boys and men in Kembatti Mentti Gezzimma’s intervention to eliminate female genital mutilation and circumcision in Kembatta zone, Ethiopia
The successful involvement of men and women as part of a community-wide approach to shifting deep-rooted norms is critical for the abandonment of female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM-C). However, there is limited research exploring how and why men engage in processes of abandonment, and how this relates to shifts in gender relations within private and public spaces. This EMERGE case study assessed the process of change among men and boys targeted by KMG Ethiopia’s intervention project in the Kembatta zone of Ethiopia, which has challenged social acceptance of, and reduced the prevalence of, FGM-C at phenomenal rates, to the point of being almost eradicated in the target zones.
Across four villages in two districts in the Kembatta Zone, 21 interviews were conducted with KMG staff, male and female project beneficiaries, and stakeholders including women’s group association members, youth group members, and religious and sub-district leaders. Additional interviews were conducted with a staff member in Sidama zone, and with two KMG management staff in Addis Ababa. Interviews assessed the achievements of KMG’s intervention, and how men and boys were successfully engaged. Significant stories of change, narratives around how and why KMG has impacted participants’ lives, were collected from all interviewees, while data was analysed using thematic analysis.
The data shows boys and men as being agents of change, including as members of community FGM-C prevention assemblies, and that supporting boys and men to disseminate prevention information, and develop and implement sanctions for those who continue the practice, helps to reduce FGM-C. KMG’s community conversations educated men and women collectively about the harmful health, economic, and interpersonal effects of FGM-C, as well as the related benefits of abandoning the practice. Providing alternative income generating opportunities for traditional circumcisers, celebrating whole body, ‘healthy life’ events to replace former celebrations of FGM-C, and integrating economic and environmental development were particularly effective strategies for harnessing community support.
The data also indicated that the intervention diminished other harmful practices including bride abduction and widow inheritance, and generated shifts in men’s and women’s support for women’s access to property inheritance, political participation, positive sexuality, household decision-making and reducing women’s domestic burden. Although men were effectively engaged in both public and private spaces, men’s participation appeared to be more gender transformative in interpersonal domains. Given the significant achievements shown by the project, many valuable lessons can be learned from KMG’s approach to shift underlying social norms, and meaningfully engage men in FGM-C abandonment and gender equality.