Imagine yourself as a 13-year old girl living in Ethiopia. By this age, you have learned to help your mother around the home, sweeping and helping her fetch water for the family. You know the lively and irresistible eskista dance and enjoy a challenging game of gebeta. It’s also possible that, with your body beginning its transition into puberty, you have undergone the act of being “cut” or circumcised by a local practitioner, as is the cultural expectation.

The practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) – cutting a girl or woman’s external genitalia – is a highly embedded cultural tradition that can be incredibly risky, known to cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, as well as cysts, infections, infertility and increased risk of newborn death. On the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation, PCI is committed playing a role in stopping this gruesome practice.

There are about 140 million girls around the world who have experienced FGM. Unfortunately, it can serve as an income generating activity for practitioners to support their own livelihoods, lending little motivation to end the cutting. In 2007, PCI initiated the Hope for Women Project in a region of Afar, Ethiopia, to protect the rights of women by challenging harmful traditional practices such as FGM, forced early marriage and domestic violence. It was a unique, multi-faceted approach that engaged and trained influential clan and religious leaders about women’s rights, educating them and holding community-wide discussions to ultimately encourage behavior change in the homes.

PCI partnered with the Give a Goat Project to create an innovative strategy within the Hope for Women Project to reinforce the adoption of practices that support the rights of women. Through funding from Alternative Gifts International, PCI purchased and distributed breeding goats to FGM practitioners who were willing to stop practicing. The goats sustained the practitioners’ livelihoods and allowed them to continue to support their families through other means.

Through education within the communities and the increase in livelihoods of FGM practitioners through the goats, a significant shift occurred. A former FGM practitioner reported when mothers would request that their daughters be circumcised; early marriage was no longer being tolerated and girls more regularly attended school. Ultimately, the community committed to ending the practice of FGM and other harmful behaviors, having zero tolerance for the intrusion on the rights of their women and girls.