Friday, 29 June 2007

Dr Bogaletch Gebre

Bogaletch Gebre grew up in rural Ethiopia where girls were not encouraged to attend school. In an effort to continue her studies she had to pretend to be fetching water when she went to lessons. Eventually she won scholarships and studied in Israel and the US, then started raising money to set up a women’s self help group, Kembatti Mentti Gezzimma, in Ethiopia. Her aim has been to empower people to make their own decisions, to strengthen women’s rights and combat female genital mutilation (FGM).

Rather than imposing solutions to problems, the group provides health, vocational, and environmental programmes which enable women make informed deicions for themselves. It is important to remember that people in rural villages may be illiterate, but that does not mean they are not intelligent.

Dr Gebre herself suffered FGM as a child, and two of her sisters died in childbirth as a result of complications caused by it. She says that fundamentally people do not want to cause any harm to their children so that when you get people talking about FGM they will ultimately reject it. Reform is achieved by addressing it as a problem not only for the individual, but also for the family and the community as a whole. The approach is based around community discussion groups.

Dr Gebre believes that gender discrimination is as harmful as racial discrimination and that educating women will lead to a far better society:

Mothers are primary educators whether or not they are so recognized, and whether or not they live in a literate or an oral society, or in something in between. If we truly desire to build a peaceful society, women as primary educators of young children are in the best position to begin the nurturing of peaceful people. But to be effective as teachers of peace they must be respected as women, and have access to education themselves.
From a recent article in The Lancet. Registration is required to read the article but it is free. It is also well worth while reading the longer account of how the self-help group started.

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