Dressed sharply in a dark coat, scarf and sun glasses, Bogaletch Gebre sits facing a roomful of community advocates in Kembatta-Tembaro, her home region in southern Ethiopia. Long, fragrant grass is scattered on the floor in an Ethiopian custom. One by one, village volunteers share their experiences from Kembatta and nearby areas. When the meeting concludes hours later, Ms Gebre effusively recalls one young woman’s newly found confidence on becoming an advocate for girls and women. She told Ms Gebre: “I never thought I had something important enough to say that would be heard by others. I never knew I had a tongue that could say what I’m saying.”
Those words could be echoed by thousands of girls and women whose lives have been changed by Ms Gebre. She has done everything from helping to stem the spread of Aids in Africa to raising the status of women in villages where they were treated little better than cattle. Her biggest achievement, however, has been to help almost eradicate the practice of female genital mutilation in her part of Ethiopia and beyond. The speed of her success has prompted others to adopt her approach, which also holds lessons for those attempting to achieve change beyond the sphere of development work.
Ms Gebre, fiery and forceful when she talks about injustice and the subjugation of women, declares that FGM has no place in the 21st century. “It should not be allowed in any name to demean our humanity or a woman’s personhood,” she says.