Bogaletch Gebre, Foe of Female Genital Mutilation, Dies at 66


Then came the facilitated conversations about what needed to change.

As the KMG website described the process, there would be testimonials from parents “that they would not allow their daughters to be cut, that the men wanted to marry uncut girls, that the abuse of wives and children would be stopped, that daughters will be kept in school, that no girl would be married without her will.”

In many cases, the process empowered women while improving economic conditions.

“The societal change that KMG has triggered is substantial,” the Belgium-based King Baudouin Foundation said in 2013 in awarding its prestigious prize for African development to Ms. Gebre. Tens of thousands of women have been spared gross human rights violations, the foundation said, and their communities have become more equitable.

Ms. Gebre was in graduate school in California in the mid-1990s when she was drawn back to her homeland. Severe famine had struck Ethiopia, poverty was mounting and her country was in political turmoil.

“Yes, I could have had a better house and gone jogging on the beach or gone to a spa every weekend,” she said later. “But is that what life is all about? Could I have stayed there, knowing my sisters were being cut and abducted and turned into servants? Einstein said you start living when you give yourself out. I feel I’m living now.”

Ms. Gebre, known as Boge (pronounced Bo-gay), was born into a farm family — her mother was Lonseke Ayemo and her father, Gebre Kabre — in the remote village of Zata in the Kembatta district, about 250 miles southwest of the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. She was one of 14 children, many of whom died in childhood.

When she was 12, she was subjected to female genital mutilation. The myth was that it cleansed a girl and prepared her for giving birth; if her baby was touched by some parts of the genitals during childbirth, it would die.

As Ms. Gebre described her procedure, a man grabbed and blindfolded her while two women held her legs and a third woman sat between them using a razor to slash her genitals. She nearly bled to death; one of her sisters did die that way.

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