22 May 2013
Ms Gebre was awarded the King Baudouin Prize in Belgium for confronting “culturally entrenched taboo subjects”, the selection committee said.
She helped reduce cases of FGM from 100% of newborn girls to less than 3% in parts of Ethiopia, it said. FGM is practised mainly in communities in Africa and the Middle East. Also known as female circumcision, it is seen as a traditional rite of passage and is used culturally to ensure virginity and to make a woman marriageable. It typically involves removing the clitoris, and can lead to bleeding, infections and childbirth problems.
Ms Bogaletch told BBC Focus on Africa that her message to community elders who promoted FGM was: “Daddy, you lived your time. This is our period, our children’s period. We don’t want to kill our children. I hope you are wise enough to accept that.”
The Belgium-based King Baudouin Foundation awarded Ms Gebre the 450,000 euros ($580,000; £385,000) prize for her “innovative” campaign to eradicate FGM.
The Kembatti Mentti Gezzimma (KMG) group, which she founded, focused on arranging “community conversations” in areas of Ethiopia where illiteracy levels were high and FGM “endemic”, the Foundation said in a statement.
Profile: Dr. Bogaletch Gebre — Fulbright Scholar & Community Activist Uplifting Women (Tadias)
Dr. Bogaletch Gebre (From Tadias Magazine Print Issue 2003)
By Tseday Alehegn
The following profile of Dr. Bogaletch Gebre was first published in the August/September 2003 print issue of Tadias Magazine.
Los Angeles (TADIAS) — “What is good for women is good for the community,” Dr. Bogaletch Gebre declares as she promotes her non-profit organization, KMG (The Kembatti Mentti Gezzima ‚ Tope). Literally translated it means “Women of Kembatta pooling their efforts to work together.” Located on a lush 7.4 acre land donated by the township of Durame in southern Ethiopia, close to where she grew up as a child, the Kembatta women’s self-help center stands complete with an Administrative Center, Cafeteria, Skills Training Center, Women’s Dialogue House, Library Resource Center, Heritage Center, and a Round House. Her dream realized, Dr. Bogaletch Gebre could now focus on hot issues affecting women’s health, livelihood, education and environment. “What I discovered in our work,” she says, “is not changing the whole society at once, but to change one person at a time. And it works.” This oasis is a far cry from the township she knew as a girl in the village of Zato.
Daughter of a farmer, Bogaletch was taught how to read and write by a relative; she would study by the campfire at night after completing her daily house chores and responsibilities. In a village where the education of girls was rarely encouraged, Bogaletch’s father was reluctant to allow his daughter to continue with her primary school education. Occasionally, she was given permission and she would willingly make the six-mile run to and from school. “I would never dream of complaining,” she says, “I felt fortunate; one of the chosen few.” “Demands at home kept me away from school for weeks, sometimes months,” she continues, “but still I skipped grades, completing four levels in three years.” She became the first girl in her village to be educated beyond the fourth grade. By the time she was nine she was reading and translating court documents for her father, a task he had previously paid others to do for him. She helped people in her community write their court applications free of charge. “As a sign of respect in Kambatta tradition, a father is called after his first-born son, and a mother after her first-born daughter,” she explains, “Imagine his surprise when my fatherís peers started calling him ëFather of Bogaletch.”
Her father now won over by her diligence and perseverance Bogaletch was allowed to attend the one and only women’s boarding school in Addis Ababa on a government scholarship. She then went on to attend Hebrew University in Jerusalem on a full scholarship. Saving her stipend money with great effort she demonstrated her appreciation to her father by building him a new house with a corrugated tin roof ‚ the only one of its kind in Zato. “People came from miles to see what a woman could do. Now I wanted to do more,” she confessed. Once people in her village saw what women could achieve with education they were willing to let their daughters become educated too and a ripple-effect ensued.
Bogaletch continued her education securing a Fulbright scholarship to the University of Massachusetts and later completing a PhD program in Epidemiology at UCLA. Returning to Ethiopia after 13 years she realized the disparities in education opportunities in her hometown and began to conceive of a way to give back to her community. In 1997 she established KMG and ran five marathon races in Los Angeles, California to raise the funds necessary to build the center. The slogan on her t-shirt summed up her conviction: “If my people can walk for miles barefoot, hungry, and sick, I can run 26 miles to help them.”
Ensuring that Ethiopian girls and women have the same opportunities for education as she did has been Dr. Gebre’s foremost desire. Since its inception, KMG has to date trained 120 women as community-based reproductive health educators and an additional 500 peer-group educators from 52 schools. The center has organized annual anti-AIDS rallies and sensitization workshops for over 6,000 local participants and provided paralegal civic education training for women’s groups, police, teachers, government officials and community elders.
After receiving funding from more than twenty-four international donors including OXFAM, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the European Commission, KMG established the first public library in the region. A ‘Dialogue House’ was designed for women to gather together to openly discuss their ideas and concerns. Efforts to relieve women from walking many miles in search of water were also made as KMG created women’s work cooperatives and constructed reservoirs for potable water. Legal clinics have been set up to teach women their legal rights to health and education.
KMG has primarily tackled the issue of female genital excision (FGE) and educates women to refuse to undergo this dangerous and harmful tradition. The approach of including elders and local leaders in the re-education process has been successful, and slowly attitudes and social behaviors are changing with emphasis on protection of women’s health and reproductive rights. In January 2003, a young couple in Bogaletchís hometown made international headlines as BBC carried their inspiring wedding ceremony. The bride wore a placard reading “I am so happy to be an uncircumcised woman.” The groom’s placard read: “Iím extremely glad to be marrying an uncircumcised girl.” In a society where 85% of the population is estimated to undergo FGE it is indeed brave to stand up against such a practice, and it is becoming increasingly more important to do so as the HIV/AIDS infection rate of young girls aged 15-19 is now seven times that of boys the same age. Traditional practices such as FGE and abductions leading to rape have left many girls and women prone to this deadly epidemic.
Additional future KMG projects include strengthening women’s leadership and decision-making capacity in the prevention and control of HIV/AIDS, establishment of a mother child health center, creation of a voluntary counseling and testing center, and developing a business center for women to gain skills training for more income-generation. Dr. Gebre’s emphasis on giving back to her community is noteworthy. “It is roughly 7,000 miles from Los Angeles to Ethiopia, but the distance is compressed by a growing awareness that we are all one on this small, blue planet,” she states. Living up to her name, which means “she who is like a flash of light”, Bogaletch is providing a light for other concerned citizens to follow. “Poor women don’t like breaks,” she reminds us, “they like opportunities. Once you give them that they run with it. They asked us for a library, water, bridge, school, women’s center, and women’s health clinic. When we provide that, they create their own solutions.” Awe-inspiring, talented, and dedicated, Dr. Bogaletch Gebre is transforming society and telling each of us “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”
To learn more about KMG and Dr. Bogaletch Gebre you may visit her website at www.kmg-ethiopia.org.
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