Harmful cultures against women

Harmful cultures against women

There are several social norms that negatively affect women such as early/forced marriage, marriage by abduction, female genital mutilation (FGM), bride price/dowry, virginity testing, cat-calling, body shaming, and more. Sometimes it can lead to violence if a woman won’t adhere to social standards or a person’s expectations like murder, acid violence, and rape. In some cases, women are programmed to think a certain way and therefore feel like they have to adhere to social standards or else they won’t have value. Some women take extreme measures like cosmetic mutilation and breast flattening or enlarging.


Early/Forced Marriage

Early or forced marriage is also referred to as child marriage when a girl under 18 is married to an older man. Rural communities are usually the ones that practice this culture. When a young girl is given off to be married she has to give up her education and future career to take care of her husband and kids for the rest of her life. Early marriage is caused by several factors such as traditional, legal, economic, community, religion, and poverty factors. Sometimes, these marriages are formed by abduction, called marriage by abduction. This is when a man can’t pay the necessary payments to offer to the girl’s family and therefore abducts and rapes her. This by default will push her family to get her married to the same guy to avoid the shame that she isn’t a virgin. In some cases, the girl’s parents arrange the abduction when she is resistant to the marriage. 

Girls who marry at a young age are highly unlikely to be able to support themselves. Because they don’t have the necessary education and freedom, they are forced to only stay home (taking care of their house and family) and don’t understand all the options that are available to them. One of the leading causes for this is that the community doesn’t see the necessity of a girl continuing her education, they see more value in her taking care of the family

Early/forced marriages have traumatic effects on the mental and physical health of girls. These girls haven’t finished developing physically and emotionally to be prepared for marriage and motherhood. They give birth at a young age when their bodies are fully capable of bearing a child and therefore are at an increased risk of dying during childbirth. 

In Ethiopia, the government began taking legal, institutional, and strategic actions to end child marriage. It has a goal of ending child marriage by 2025. 

Organizations working on child marriage reduction

There are several organizations fighting against child/early/forced marriages. A couple are: 


UNICEF is an international NGO dedicated to helping children all over the world. In Ethiopia, it participates in several programs to help Ethiopia’s youth, one being ending child marriages. UNICEF creates a program that educates girls, families, and communities to show them the damage of child marriage. In Ethiopia, over 15 million girls are child brides, with most of them giving birth in their teenage years. Among these, over 90% don’t return to school. 

In the Sidama Regional State, the Hula Woreda is one of the woredas participating in ending child marriage program target woredas, UNICEF supports both technically and financially. It aims to inform girls and enable them to reach out and educate their community to stop child marriage.

  • World Vision Ethiopia

World Vision Ethiopia is an international NGO focusing on education, and disaster impact. Economic development, health & nutrition, water, and more. It sim s to eliminate child marriage b 2025 and created the “It Takes a World to End Child Marriage” campaign to gather communities with the help of the government to increase the awareness of the negative effects of child marriage.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

FGM is when a girl’s, usually during her infant years up to 15 years of age, the clitoris is partially or completely removed, including removing the labia minora. There are 3 types; Type involves removing the clitoris; Type 2 involves removing the clitoris and labia minora; Type 3 involves removing the clitoris, labia minora, labia majora, and sewing them together leaving a small hole for menstruation and urination. The most common types are 1 and 2. The procedure is usually performed by a traditional healer, with dull [knives, scissors, razor blades] sometimes, and therefore isn’t completely sanitary. It is performed because of the false belief that this process ensures virginity or protects modesty. FGM causes physical trauma that can lead to life-threatening infections and long-term issues with menstruation, infertility, and issues with childbirth. In addition, it can cause depression and self-esteem issues. 

FGM and Health Risks

There are short-term and long-term complications. The short term includes shock, pain, hemorrhage (extreme blood loss), urinary retention (caused by pain, tissue swelling, and fear of urinating on fresh wounds), infection, and fracture (caused by the girl struggling during the procedure), failure to heal, and death.

Long-term complications include difficulty urinating (due to damage to the urethra opening), constant UTI, severe pelvic infections, infertility, vulval abscesses (swollen body tissue containing pus), keloid scars, increased risk of HIV contraction, sex complications, childbirth complications, and psychological complications.

Women who underwent FGM have issues during childbirth like: 

  • Postpartum hemorrhage
  • Episiotomy (a surgical cut made at the opening of the vagina during childbirth, to aid a difficult delivery and prevent rupture of tissues)
  • Obstructed labor due to scar tissue
  • Resuscitation of the infant
  • Inpatient perinatal death
  • Postpartum hemorrhage
  • Stillbirth
  • Early neonatal death

In Ethiopia, over 25 million girls ad women have experienced FGM. Just like child marriage, the Ethiopian Government has a goal of ending FGM by 2025. It has already created a violation of human rights in Ethiopia’s criminal code since 2004. It is up to society to work together and stop these harmful practices. 

Organizations working on FGM reduction

There are a few organizations in Ethiopia that are dedicated to ending FGM.

  • Kembatti Mentti Gezimma-Tope (KMG): is one organization that has made enormous strides to tackle this issue. KMG is an Ethiopian NGO that is continuously raising the public’s awareness of the harmful effects of FGM in the Kembatta Tembaro region in theSouthern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR). The organization’s name, Kembatti Mentti Gezimma-Tope, is translated to “Kembatta Women Standing Together.” KMG has been active for 22 years and is responsible for reducing the public’s approval of FGM from 97% in 1997 to less than 5% in 2021. 
  • Rohi Wedu: is another NGO dedicated to ending FGM located in the Afar region. The organization created a campaign to end FGM and customized its information based on different clan leaders in the Afar region. Rohi Wedu has worked with UNICEF to approach important clan leaders to facilitate “Community Dialogue” sessions to learn the negative effects of FGM and transfer this knowledge to their respective communities. 

There are many more organizations working on FGM such as the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF), Federation of International Obstetrics and Gynaecology (FIGO), African Union (AU), the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), and women organizations.


Catcalling is a form of harassment where a stranger makes sexual remarks to a woman as she walks in the street, office, on public transport, and more. Because of this, many women fear walking out alone, especially at night, because they are constantly harassed making them feel inferior. Link to other factsheet for catcalling

Body shaming

Body shaming is a term given when someone makes negative comments, also judgment or comparison,  about their own or another person’s body/physical features. The areas of focus can include body weight, size, shape, and attractiveness. Body shaming doesn’t have one specific topic, it can be about anything like being “too skinny”, “overweight”, “not tall/short enough”, and many more. This causes several physical and mental/emotional harm. There are so many conventional standards of beauty, impossible to be met by everyone, that many women take unhealthy measures to “fit in.” This can lead to eating disorders, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, personality disorders, self-injury/harm, and suicide.  

Society needs to understand that no two people are the same, everyone has their own body type and is perfect just the way they are. Almost always, a person doing the body shaming is ashamed of their own bodies and projecting to feel better about themselves.  If someone wants to change the way they look that is completely fine but it has to stem from the person, not society. People need to stop judging and remain neutral as it doesn’t concern them. It is also necessary that someone speak up when they see a person body shaming themselves or others. If people accept and appreciate their bodies, nothing others say can affect them.

How can we change the narrative?

We must first recognize and understand all the harmful cultural harm to women. Everyone needs to be educated and work together to stop all these harmful practices. In addition, women and men need to come together and discuss these effects on their lives. Because it is only when we are all working together that we can remove these practices.