Founder and Director, KMG Ethiopia
Bogalech Gebre, affectionately known as Boge, was born in Kebmata-Tembaro Zone, Southern Region. A rural girl with a family of 14, Boge was born in the fifties where education for girls was unthinkable. She was the first girl to go beyond 4th grade in a community where furthering education for a girl was prescribed. This archaic thinking also limited our aspiration Boge says. However, Boge was helped by missionaries to peruse her education even finding her a scholarship to complete secondary education in Addis Ababa,
After completing her high school education, Bogalech yet again won a scholarship to study Physiology and Microbiology in Jerusalem, Israel at Hebrew University. She then came back to Ethiopia and became Assistant Lecturer, at the Addis Ababa University. From there, she won a Fulbright Scholarship and studied Parasitology at the University of Massachusetts.
In 1997, she founded KMG Ethiopia to fight Female Genital Mutilation and to promote the prevention of HIV and Aids. KMG-Ethiopia’s effort began in the region of Kembatta- Tembaro (Alaba Zone). Currently KMG operates in 24 of Southern Nations Nationalities and People’s Regional State (SNNPRS) and Oromia district reaching out to more than 481,289 direct and 2,859,500 indirect beneficiaries, 70% of whom are women.
Initially, KMG-Ethiopia’s intervention was focused on eliminating sanctioned violence against women and girls, such as female genital mutilation, bridal abduction and other customary practices harmful to girls and women. Since then, KMG-Ethiopia’s focus has expanded greatly.
Passion in life
In sharing her passion, Boge shares, “I always wanted to do something like building a school, hospital, but as my consciousness was raised, I realized that there is a core element in human life, the personhood of a woman. Reflecting upon my young life, I was subjected to female genital mutilation when I was twelve years old, as were my sisters and one of them died in childbirth as a result. So my question in life has become how can I turn that cycle of abusive life and the violence women are forced to bear? Changing a woman’s status quo became my obsession. How to stop the horrendous practices of female genital mutilation (FGM), abduction, domestic violence of untold stories, and transform those to living with human dignity has become my daily thought.
Bogalech was in graduate school in the United States when she started reading about the FGM practice and discovered that all the painful and cruel circumstances she and her sister had gone through were not supposed to happen. The horror of almost dying from perfuse bleeding and clotting that closed off her urinary tract and the death of her sister at child birth were results of a horrible practice and not part of the culture. She became outraged and angry and cried endlessly. “I still cry when I think of my older sister who was pregnant with twins; she died because it was not possible to take out her perfectly healthy babies. That was when I decided to return to Ethiopia. I realized that even if I could save a single girl from this horrific experience, then I would have done my life\’s work.” She decided that her position in life was to see women to be free from violence, to self-actualize, to be considered as human beings at birth.
Ever since then, Boge has been using her time, resources, knowledge, expertise, connections, life opportunities, etc. to be a change agent and make societal transformation.
Achievements Boge is Proud of:
- Visible social transformation has been observed in knowledge, attitude and practice of gender-based violence and harmful traditional practices among Kembatta-Tembaro communities. Bogalech shares, “we estimate that hundreds of thousands of girls have been spared of genital excision. Such dramatic reduction did not take place just by faith or laws, but by the consent of communities that have learned the reasons why these practices are harmful.” In 1998, UNICEF studied the prevalence of FGM and reported it was 100%. After ten years, in 2008, same study was conducted and the prevalence was reduced by 97%. She shares, “today, we have created a generation of women, who would not suffer due to the consequences of FGM.”
- In 2002, the first uncut girl got married and everyone came out to see her astonished. Nowadays, marriageability of uncircumcised girls is no more an issue as young men choose to marry uncircumcised ones. In 2004, KMG created an event called, “Whole Body, Healthy Life – Freedom from Female Genital Mutilation”, in which an estimated 90,000-100,000 people from diverse remote villages, zones, different backgrounds and religions, NGOs, diplomats, UN agency representatives, and 26 journalists went to a Durame soccer stadium for a celebration of 30,000 girls who had not been mutilated; the event now occurs yearly.
- KMG has scaled up its good practices from initial two sub-districts (kebele) to twenty-six districts in SNNPRS and Oromia, and observing much faster change, transformation and ownership.
- Monitoring mechanisms were put in place to follow up on the girls’ lives from birth to adulthood. KMG supports schools by providing supplies and tutorial making them girls-friendly. Hence, communities are upholding the gains and stand firmly against the practices of FGM & other gender-based violence (GBVs) through enforcing their own social contracts.
- KMG is also noted in developing instruments such as Asset Based Community Driven Development to identify social asset and system and to predict and prevent famine. They also developed the indicators of Community Capacity Enhancement (CCE) through community conversation (CC) that was piloted in south. The first manual for HIV/AIDS was formed based on the community of practice and was launched with HAPCO and Women Coalition against HIV contributing to the national and international efforts to combat HIV/AIDS and eliminate GBVs.
- Upholding of women’s rights by law enforcement bodies in the region. Communities increasingly report cases of GBV and perpetrators are penalized. Free legal aid and counseling are given to survivors of violence. Women were empowered to demand their legal rights which forced the system to improve and even assign women judges. Systemic changes are seen in the legal spheres.
- The organization has won fifteen national and international awards. On May 22, 2013, Bogalech received the first King Badouin prize for contributions to development in Africa, which comes with an award of 150,000 euros.
- Addressing structural problems were essential for sustainable results for Boge. Hence, trainings were given to government decision makers and government line departments, and they have taken initiatives to mainstream gender in the efforts of development.
- KMG’s focus has expanded to include concerns deeply interwoven with gender-based discrimination: economic enfranchisement, education, and reproductive health services, dealing with HIV/AIDS, environmental degradation, and small infrastructure development. Expanding the programs to address all these multi-faceted problems has brought the changes that have been observed in the SNNPR.
- Transfer of knowledge to address problems of different sorts was used to enable an isolated, marginalized and out casted group called Fuga. These are potters and were violated in every sense. In order to address their unique problems, Boge developed an intervention which was used to eliminate FGM, enhance women empowerment and application of CC tools. “We trained key people, sensitized them as well as the larger community. The Fuga have now changed their names to “People of the Golden Hands.” It is their product we use [our cups, gembo, mitad, sini and jebena, gan]. They are the artisans. After working on their perceptions, attitudes and life style choices, major changes occurred and this has become one of the sources of my life satisfaction. I call them my people. Today, they are part of the community, they go to the same church others go, they come to weddings, they have created their niche, they can go to stores and shop like others do. They have become part of the society, improved their products and marketing them. I am happy that their lives have changed – One Village at a time!”
Helping other women:
Boge says, “Enabling women starts with showing them their self-worth. Economic opportunity without a strong sense of self-worth does not mean much but coupled with self value, economic opportunity is indispensable to sustain self confidence. Women need health protection and education and role models; they need to be able to analyze others views and see the world from different angles. Hence, KMG works on women empowerment beginning with self-respect. Other components, education, self-help economic empowerment, health, social support, environmental issues are addressed in the programs in a comprehensive way.”
Tens of thousands have organized themselves as uncut girls clubs becoming social forces to stop the cycle of violence and ensure their personal agency. Mutilators have become activists of the movement against FGM and GBVs. With Boge’s support women in Kembata are enabled to stand for their rights at the court and have developed their own business, learning to rely on themselves. Through the KMG programs, Boge uses holistic approach to deal with individuals, micro as well as macro systems that affect the multi-faceted problems of women and address human dignity, education, and livelihood and thrive to freedom of thinking and living as desired.