MONTSERRADO COUNTY, LIBERIA-Celebrations marking International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Liberia on Monday, February 6, 2023, in Sonkay Town, Todee District, Montserrado County, come a watershed moment – the permanent ban of a practice that has long gone on in Sande schools of Liberia’s female cultural and traditional sites.
The pronouncement was made by the Chief Traditional Zoe of Liberia, Chief Zanzan Kawor, Head of the National Council of Chiefs and Elders, after series of consultations with traditional leaders and former FGM practitioners.
Liberia’s Vice President, Jewel Howard-Taylor, Gender, Children and Social Protection Minister, Willamette Saydee-Tarr, UN Women Representative Comfort Lamptey, UN Women Goodwill Ambassador on FGM Jaha Dukureh, scores of National and International Partners, including the European Union and Equality Now, among others, witnessed the occasion.
Such feat by Liberia has been met with commendation coming from Equality Now, the non-governmental international organization that has a long history of advocating for the rights of women and girls, especially against FGM and early child marriage.
Equality Now Africa Regional Coordinator, Judy Gitau, made remarks on behalf her organization, thanking Liberia for taking a great step in the fight against FGM.
“Basically, this is a step by all traditional leaders led by Chief Zanzan Kawor, declaring that here in Montserrado County, and across Liberia FGM is banned; and all Sande schools that practiced FGM have been closed officially today”, Madam Gitau told journalists on the sideline of the program.
The Equality Now Africa Regional Coordinator welcomed the idea of a knowledge exchange program between Liberia and Kenya, where FGM practice has drastically reduced, so Liberia can learn while putting together legislations to criminalize that practice as other Countries have done.
“Kenya has been progressive, I have to say. We also have FGM in Kenya being practiced by certain communities but we do have a low. We have FGM laws and are now being implemented in committees and the prevalence rate has dropped, and we only have 15%”, says Judy Gitau.
Divya Srinivasan, Equality Now’s Global Lead, End Harmful Practices Program, reflects, “We welcome this groundbreaking declaration by traditional leaders to ban FGM in all the practicing counties in Liberia. We recognize today’s progress as the culmination of decades of hard work and resilience by Liberian civil society organizations and activists striving to end FGM.
Liberia is one of the four African countries with FGM prevalence without a law. Other countries are Somalia, Mali and Sierra Leone.
A new bill to prohibit FGM has been submitted to Liberia’s Legislature.
Passing a law would provide a way to hold perpetrators to account and would act as an important deterrent.
Legislation would define the obligations that the government has committed to in protecting women and girl against FGM, and the government could be held accountable for coordinating state and non-state efforts to eradicate this harmful practice.
This includes educating and engaging the community about the harms caused by FGM, in line with Liberia’s human rights obligation under regional and international treaties.
Queen Juli Endee, the Cultural Ambassador and Traditional Queen, Chair, Taskforce on Traditional Initiation without Mutilation, acknowledged at the function, “It has always been taboo for traditional leaders and members of the Sande to discuss FGM in public. We have come a long way, and with the help of traditional leaders and alongside the Zoes, we are discussing it.”
“One of the steps that traditional leaders have taken is to understand that it is a global issue. We have been approached with dignity and respect and as a result, we have accepted that FGM is not just a matter of our concern but a global issue.”
Mackins Pajibo, Program Director for Women Solidarity Incorporated (WOSI), stated, “A great win for us is that we have been working with traditional leaders to bring them on board since 2012. And now they have made a bold declaration against FGM which puts them at the forefront of the campaign against FGM.”
Moving forward, authorities say FGM tools will be collected and awareness-raising will begin in the remaining ten Counties to gradually end the practice nationwide while Government and partners make significant improvements towards alternative livelihood for former FGM practitioners.