Kedija was just seven days old when she was cut.
That was only the beginning of her pain. She was unable to hold in urine, and endured painful menstruation. "I isolated myself from socializing because of that," the now-25-year-old told The Associated Press. Soon after her marriage at age 14, she gave birth to three children, and the repeated trauma of childbirth caused her near-fatal renal complications.
Female genital mutilation (FGM), although outlawed by Ethiopia's government, is still practiced in many villages in the desert region of Afar. In the largely rural area, nine in 10 women and girls have been subjected to FGM.
Kedija and others in Afar are not alone. According to the United Nations, at least 200 million women and girls worldwide have experienced some form of FGM, most of them before their first birthday and without consent.
At least 44 million of the 200 million survivors of FGM are 14 years old or younger.
Addu Abdala Dubba is a midwife. But she once performed circumcisions. Often, she told The Associated Press, she did several consecutive cuttings in one day.
"When I used to cut girls' genitals using this blade, I always made sure it is very sharp, like this. Otherwise the girls could go through severe physical pain."
She used to believe what she was doing was necessary. She was preventing women from becoming aroused and, she thought, maintaining family honor by keeping women faithful in marriage.
But government trainings changed her mind. "I now understand this practice is wrong and it can destroy a child's future," she told The Associated Press. "Therefore I stopped doing it completely right away." She shares her new knowledge of the harms of FGM in her community. When her daughter asked her to perform the procedure on her newborn, Addu Abdala Dubba refused and explained the consequences of the process. "And because of that my granddaughter is not cut."
Despite the efforts of Addu Abdala Dubba and others like her, it's a long road to spreading awareness. Ethiopia's government has pushed to end the practice with public health facilities and the help of volunteers.
One hospital in Asaita, in Afar, is dedicated to helping women whose FGM has resulted in complications, especially during childbirth. But the medical center lacks funding, and doctors struggle to fulfill patient needs with reduced staff.
Dr. Saleh Yusuf Imam, the medical director, says the hospital has still been able to educate communities on FGM. Often the women he treats take it upon themselves to spread the word. "Following post-treatment counseling," he says, "we hear most them vow to not let a single woman they know endure female genital mutilation ever again."
But many families insist on continuing the practice.
Kedija hopes to prevent as many mutilations as possible.
"Whenever I find a parent that still insists on practicing female genital mutilation, I try to convince them otherwise. Their small girls shouldn't go through what I went through and live a similar gruesome life like mine."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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