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  • Protecting Women and Girls from Harmful Traditional PracticesEvaluating State Responses in the Bench-Maji Zone, Southwest Ethiopia
  • Zelalem Shiferaw Woldenmichael (bio)


Admittedly, all practices that entail violations of women's and girl's human rights can be described as harmful. But there are particular forms of violence perpetrated against women and girls that community members in certain regions defend on the basis of tradition, culture, religion, or superstition. These are termed harmful traditional practices or HTPs, according to the elaboration made by the United Nations' Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights.1 The most widely practiced and documented HTPs that entail violations of women's and girls' rights include female genital mutilation (FGM), forced feeding of women, early marriage, nutritional taboos and traditional birth practices, son preference, female infanticide, early pregnancy, and dowry price.2

With a view to ameliorating the daunting consequences of HTPs, the binding international human rights treaties such as the International Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) included provisions that help to address HTPs. The CEDAW under Article 2(f), for example, requires state parties to take all appropriate measures to modify or abolish existing customs and practices that constitute discrimination against women. Given the fact that HTPs are forms of discriminatory treatment perpetrated against women, this provision is of great help in protecting women and girls from HTPs.3 The CRC also unequivocally obliges state parties to take all effective and appropriate measures to abolish traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children.4

Currently, most member states of the UN have ratified the international [End Page 297] human rights treaties mentioned.5 By way of passing laws that criminalize traditional practices harmful to women and girls and taking administrative and other appropriate measures, ratifying states have also made an effort to give effect to the provisions of the treaties.6

Though these measures represent a milestone in the protection of the rights of women and girls, recent studies conducted in a number of states have revealed that HTPs are still causing serious human rights violations on women and girls.7 The situation in Ethiopia is not an exception. The findings of various research initiatives and the concluding remarks of the monitoring bodies of the UN regarding the implementation of the CRC and CEDAW by the government of Ethiopia indicates that much needs to be done to protect women and girls effectively from HTPs.8 The Bench-Maji zone is among the areas in Ethiopia where HTPs are prevalent.

In this study I have considered the most dominant HTPs affecting women and girls in the Bench-Maji zone of southwest Ethiopia. In so doing, I have analyzed the nature and consequences of the practices on women and girls. Furthermore, by examining the existing practical situation in the zone, I have evaluated whether the government of Ethiopia is discharging its international obligation of abolishing HTPs to the extent required.

In conducting the study I have deployed mixed research methods. Hence I have used both qualitative and quantitative data. In so far as the qualitative data is concerned, I have conducted in-depth interviews with officials concerned, like the Women's Capacity Building Process chief for Youth, Child and Women's Affairs in the Bench-Maji zone, the head of the public prosecution department, and public prosecutors. I have analyzed documents incorporating pertinent information in relation to the issue under consideration gathered from the Culture, Tourism and Communication Bureau of the Bench-Maji zone. Regarding the quantitative aspect, I have utilized questionnaires to collect information from residents of the research site. In determining the sample size, I applied a purposive sampling technique. Accordingly, I distributed questionnaires to some selected members of the community having adequate information about HTPs pervasive in their respective areas.

overview of the bench-maji zone

The Bench-Maji zone is in the southwestern part of Ethiopia. Mizan-Teferi is the administrative center of the zone.9 It is located at 561 km southwest of the capital, Addis Ababa.10 Based on the 2007 census conducted by the Central Statistics Agency, this zone (19,252...


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