SOURCE: The New Dawn

UN Women Liberia Country Representative, Comfort Lamptey, has emphasized the need for severe penalties on those who violate the ban on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Liberia.

Nearly nine months have passed since Chief Zanzan Karwor, Chairperson of the National Council of Chiefs and Elders of Liberia (NACCEL), announced a nationwide ban on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Sonkay Town, Montserrado County.

In Liberia, like in many other countries, the practice has no health benefits for girls and women, causing severe bleeding and urinating problems, and later cysts, and infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths. 

According to the World Health Organization’s January 2023 report on female genital mutilation (FGM), the practice persists due to a combination of cultural norms and a lack of effective enforcement. 

The report further indicated that treatment of the health complications of FGM is estimated to cost health systems US$ 1.4 billion per year, a number expected to rise unless urgent action is taken towards its abandonment.

However, violations still occur, while efforts to raise awareness about its harmful effects are ongoing with the assistance of the National Council of Chiefs and Elders of Liberia (NACCEL), the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Gender and Social Protection, civil society organizations, and international partners. 

This issue remains complexly tied to cultural norms and traditions practiced in 11 regions of the country, namely: Bong County, Lofa County, Nimba County, Grand Gedeh County, Maryland County, River Gee County, River Cess County, Grand Kru County, Sinoe County, Margibi County, and Gbarpolu County respectively, while progress towards its elimination is still underway. 

Speaking to this publication, the UN Women Liberia Country Representative stated that the call for strict penalties to be imposed on those who violate the ban is a response to the persistent practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and that this is seen as a necessary step to deter individuals and communities from engaging in the harmful tradition. 

She made these remarks during the turnover ritual ceremony that occurred on Friday, October 20, 2023, in Gbaota, Bong County, where the National Council of Chiefs and Elders represented by its deputy, Jemmie Jpokia, conducted a traditional ceremony, officially marking the handover of traditional tools used for performing FGM and the closure of the bush in the region. 

In Liberia, there are two major societies or ethnic groups that have been historically associated with the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

These societies are Krahn Society: the Krahn people, who primarily reside in the southeastern region of Liberia, have a long-standing tradition of practicing FGM. This practice has been deeply ingrained in their cultural and traditional beliefs. Secondly, Bassa Society: the Bassa people, also located in Liberia’s southeastern region, have been known to practice FGM, particularly in the form of the Sande Society, which is a female secret society associated with the initiation of young girls.

The UN Women Representative, with a pivotal role in advocating for gender equality and women’s rights, reiterated their commitment to supporting organizations that educate communities about adhering to the ban in all 11 regions,  

emphasizing, “Even when you have a ban, the implementation doesn’t happen one hundred percent, and “that’s why there will be penalties for those who break the law if you have it.”

At the same time, she called for increased awareness and education regarding the consequences of FGM. She said such efforts could play a significant role in shifting deeply rooted cultural norms and ensuring that girls and women are no longer subjected to this harmful practice.

“This is crucial, not only to protect the rights and well-being of women and girls but also to shift societal attitudes and end this harmful tradition once and for all.”

The call for strict penalties by the UN Women's Representative aligns with the broader global efforts to eliminate FGM and advance gender equality around the world.

 It is expected to encourage governments and communities to take more decisive action against the practice by passing legislation that will ultimately bring about a safer and more equitable world for women and girls.

The Swedish Government has applauded Liberia for outlawing female genital mutilation, hailing it as a groundbreaking achievement for the West African country.

The Ambassador commended the commitment, leadership, and the decision to unite based on tradition and culture to make a decision that will benefit both women and men in Liberia.

The sustainability of the process is a key consideration. It is crucial for the government, the traditional council, civil society, and communities to take this initiative forward. Investment partners view this as a positive step to ensure that both girls and boys, women and men have the same opportunities and rights. From Sweden’s perspective, this is what truly fosters prosperity, development, and the ability of everyone to contribute to society. It needs to be continued and owned by the traditional leaders, the government, civil society, and communities.

Regarding Liberia’s recent elections, the international community is not just impressed but very impressed. While there were challenges, overall, the election process was highly commendable.

The Ambassador recommended to those who continue the practice of FGM to follow the path laid out by the government and the traditional council to end FGM. While external support will continue, it’s essential that this process is driven and owned by local voices, including the traditional council and civil society.

In addition, the traditional queen of Liberia declared during the turnover of tools used in FGM in Bong County that FGM is officially banned, and the traditional community has accepted that it will no longer be practiced. However, she emphasized that other steps are required to ensure legal enforcement.

She mentioned that there are different forms of Sande, with some not practicing FGM, known as 'kippah Sande.' The Council of Elders and the Government of Liberia have decided to end violence against women by stopping FGM. Funding to help eradicate this practice has come from UN Women, the Swedish government, and the United Nations.

The traditional queen revealed that the UN Women, through its Spotlight Initiative, is focused on establishing heritage centers in all eleven counties where FGM is practiced. They have already initiated projects for around four hundred centers in those areas, and most are operational except for Lofa, which is set to be dedicated in November.

In the case of Bong County, there is a call for the partners to build a heritage center. After the ban, a ritual must be conducted, including visits to the fourteen chiefdoms of Bong County to engage with the Zoes and perform certain rituals before reaching a final closure.

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