- By Colin Cosie
Crown Princess Mary with a patient at the Barbara May Maternity Hospital in Mille. Photo: Colin Cosier
Afambo, Ethiopia: Crown Princess Mary of Denmark was “shaken up” after confronting the harsh reality of female genital mutilation on her humanitarian visit to Ethiopia on Tuesday.
The hot, desolate Afar region was a world away from wintery Copenhagen, a city still reeling from the weekend’s dramatic shooting spree that left multiple people dead, including the gunman.
As the future Danish Queen stepped out from a long convoy of white United Nations four-wheel-drives, ethnic Afar men in white gowns with knives on their belts performed a welcome dance.The princess met with villagers from Afambo. Photo: Colin Cosier
About 100 brightly dressed Afambo villagers gathered in the shade to talk with the visiting royal and the Danish Minister for Trade and Development Cooperation, Mogens Jensen. Female genital mutilation and child marriage were the topics of discussion.
“You do get shaken up by the knowledge that such a practice still exists but we have to think beyond judging it,” Crown Princess Mary later told TV2 Denmark.
In Afar, either newborn babies or girls aged 12 to 13 are commonly “cut”. The clitoris and inner and outer labia are cut off with a traditional knife before the vaginal opening is sewn closed, allowing only for a small hole. A girl’s legs are then tied at the knees for a week. The stitching is only cut open to allow for sex and childbirth before being sewn up again.Click for more photos
Crown Princess Mary in Ethiopia
The UN children’s agency, UNICEF, says female genital mutilation violates human rights and leaves girls with trauma, hemorrhaging, infection and many other complications. Religion, tradition and a girl’s “protection” are commonly cited justifications for the practice.
The prevalence rate of the practice in Afar stood as high as 94.5 per cent in 2007 but has been reduced to 60 per cent for girls under the age of 14, according to national health surveys.
As the princess listened to the Afar community, 40-year-old Amina Abdu Osman stood up to share the details of her own children’s experiences. Her two eldest daughters were “cut” but after the first suffered infections and complications she decided not to do the same with her third daughter, Fatima.Amina Abdu Osman shared stories about her family’s experience of female genital mutilation with the princess. Photo: Colin Cosier
“And Fatima, how is she accepted amongst her peers in the community?” asked Princess Mary, alluding to how girls who have not been “cut” are often shunned. The 12-year-old girl doesn’t have any problems, said the mother.
The Dane later joined a huddle of women for a private talk under a thatched shelter. Her male security detail stood respectfully at the door.
Leaving a cloud of dust in its wake, the royal entourage and Danish media pack sped off along sand-blown roads to the next location. There, the princess met a fellow antipodean at the Australian-run Barbara May Maternity Hospital.
Valerie Browning, 64, left Sydney for Ethiopia 25 years ago and now runs a local pastoralist association that manages the hospital. Her Afar name, “Malika,” means “Angel”.
The two ex-patriates walked into the concrete facility chatting about where they hailed from in Australia. Inside, the mood was more sober; about a dozen women lay on beds in the hospital’s main ward, many suffering from complications of female genital mutilation and an obstructed labour injury called obstetric fistula.
Scottish doctor Margaret McDougald, the only gynaecologist in a region with 1.5 million people, guided the Crown Princess around, introducing her to patients.
This was the second and longest trip to Ethiopia for the princess, who is the UN Population Fund patron. Over the three-day trip she also visited a South Sudanese refugee camp.