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Bogaletch Gebre a.k.a Boge, Women Rights activist and founder of Kembatti Mentti Gezzimma (KMG) Ethiopia was awarded the King Baudouin African Development Prize on May 22nd in Brussels, Belgium. She was awarded the prize for transforming women’s lives by developing an innovative approach to change community mindsets on a range of culturally embedded issues and her pioneering approach to empowering women and local communities as well as for her unwavering determination in combating Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
Bogaletch accepted the prize at a ceremony held at the Royal Palace in Brussels and attended by King Albert II and Queen Paola of Belgium and other guests including Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who nominated Bogaletch for the King Baudouin Prize.
“I am humbled to receive such a prestigious award. It speaks not only to the work of KMG but also to the commitment of the communities we serve. I look forward to the opportunity the Prize will bring to spread awareness of the profound yet unnecessary difficulties women face in Ethiopia. Most importantly, I hope others across Africa are inspired by KMG’s success and realize that together we can revolutionize the life prospects of African women,” Bogaletch said. KMG is a nonprofit organization that envisages a society where women are free from all forms of discrimination and violence and able to attain justice and equality for themselves, their families and their communities. The organization was founded with the idea that people cannot “be developed” but can only develop themselves. In this respect, Bogaletch organizes community conversations to challenge culturally ingrained taboo subjects and harmful habitual practices such as FGM and bridal abductions.
Through implementing this approach, KMG has been able to lower the incidence of FGM from 100 percent to less than 3 percent in the last 10 years, across communities in Ethiopia.
The success of Bogaletch has led to many international organizations to replicate KMG’s model. UNICEF endorsed KMG’s approach to ending FGM which has already been adopted by the Ethiopian government, stating that it should also be adopted by other African countries.
“Bogaletch’s work to empower women and fight harmful but entrenched cultural practices like FGM is an example of the kind of community driven yet scalable approach to development that will transform the African continent. Her innovative approach coupled with her service to underserved communities makes her a perfect fit for the inaugural King Baudouin African Development Prize,” said Carlos Lopes, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa and Member of the Prize selection committee.
KMG works in various areas located in different regions where people are illiterate and lack basic needs including electricity. Besides working on FGM and related issues, KMG also addresses issues of development and women’s empowerment.
Bogaletch says her organization doesn’t just tell people what to do. “As with all efforts seeking social change, the instigators of change need to listen to the local communities, learn from them, and gain their trust.”
“People tend to relate better to practical rather than abstract issues. When I first started talking to villagers about HIV/AIDS, women’s rights and human rights, these were abstract concepts to them, which were not their priority; what is important to them is, for example, trying to fix a broken bridge,” she says.
The King Baudouin Prize was established in 1978 to promote social progress in developing countries. It concentrates its efforts on supporting development work in Africa. Worth 150,000 euros and awarded every other year by the King Baudouin Foundation, the King Baudouin African Development Prize rewards initiatives which stand out as the best in their field, significantly improve the quality of life of the population they serve, and empower local communities in Africa.
Besides the King Baudouin Prize, Bogaletch received other awards such as the Bruno Kreisky Human Rights Award this year and the 2012 Human Rights Prize from the Republic of France.