The successful involvement of men and women as part of a community-wide approach to shifting deep-rooted norms is critical for the abandonment of female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM-C). However, there is limited research exploring how and why men engage in processes of abandonment and how this relates to shifts in gender relations within private and public spaces. This study assessed the process of change among men and boys targeted by Kembatti Mentti Gezzimma (KMG) Ethiopia’s intervention in the Kembatta zone of Ethiopia, which has challenged social acceptance of, and reduced the prevalence of, FGM-C at phenomenal rates (UNICEF 2008). Across four villages, in two districts in the Kembatta Zone, 21 interviews were conducted with KMG staff, male and female beneficiaries, and stakeholders including women’s group association members, youth group members, idir (mutual assistance groups or agricultural assistance groups), and religious and sub-district leaders. Additional interviews were conducted with a staff member in Sidama zone and two KMG management staff in Addis Ababa. Interviews assessed achievements of KMG’s intervention and how men and boys were successfully engaged. Most significant stories of change, which elicited narratives around how and why KMG has impacted participants’ lives, were collected from all interviewees. Data was analyzed using thematic analysis.
The data indicates how KMG considers boys and men as agents of change including as members of community FGM-C prevention assemblies, supporting boys and men to disseminate prevention information, and developing and implementing sanctions for those who continue the practice. KMG’s community conversations educated men and women collectively about the harmful health, economic and interpersonal effects of FGM-C, and the related benefits of abandoning the practice. Providing alternative income generating opportunities for traditional circumcisers, celebrating whole body, ‘healthy life’1 events to replace former celebrations of FGM-C, and integrating economic and environmental development were particularly effective for harnessing community support. The data indicated that the intervention diminished other harmful practices including bride abduction and widow inheritance and generated shifts in men’s and women’s support for women’s access to property inheritance, political participation, positive sexuality, household decision-making and reducing women’s domestic burden. Although men were effectively engaged in both public and private spaces, men’s participation appeared to be more gender transformative in interpersonal domains. Given the significant achievements, many valuable lessons can be learned from KMG’s approach to shift underlying social norms, and meaningfully engage men in FGM-C abandonment and gender equality.