The Informer (Monrovia)

15 February 2013

Liberia: FIND Demands Stronger Action From Ellen On FGM - Describes It Wicked Cultural Practice

The Foundation for International Dignity (FIND) has challenged President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to go beyond declaring proclamation and take a stronger abolition stance on the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the country.

FGM, also known as female genital cutting, is often practiced in the Liberian female traditional schools, called the Sande Society, where females (five and above) are trained several cultural and traditional traits including care for homes and deportments as they grow into womanhood.

In the Sande Bushes (schools) their genitals (clitoris) are reportedly severed as a means of reportedly controlling their sexual desires, but that act which is widely practiced at various levels in Africa and other parts of the world has been widely condemned and global efforts to abort it has intensified.

FIND Executive Director Roosevelt Woods said the recent proclamation by President Sirleaf to join global efforts in curtailing the practice was "in the right direction," meaningless unless more decision was taken.

"I think that [proclamation] is in the right direction and we would like the President to take a stronger decision on that issue [FGM] instead of just making statements," Woods told The Informer Wednesday (Feb 13) in Monrovia.

President Sirleaf by Proclamation declared Wednesday, February 6, 2013, as a day of "Intensifying Global Efforts for The Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation" which was observed throughout Liberia as a working holiday.

The Proclamation further urged all ministries and agencies of government, local and international organizations and the general public to join the Liberian National Association on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (NATPAH) in collaboration with the Awareness Action Groups (AAG's) and women organizations to plan and execute appropriate programs befitting the occasion.

This year's commemoration of "Zero Tolerance" of FGM was celebrated under the global theme: "Intensifying Global Efforts for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation", while the event in Liberia was celebrated under the theme: "Intensifying National Efforts for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation and Harmful Traditional Practices".

According to the Proclamation, the organizers and supporters of Zero Tolerances on FGM on the African continent considered such practice as unacceptable, barbaric, inhumane, and traumatizing and a practice that continues to create agony in the life of women in Africa and the world, an argument the FINF Boss backed.

Woods said his organization has receive, on a daily basis, numerous complaints from women in the counties of Bomi, Cape Mount, Grand Bassa, Gbarpolu, Lofa and Nimba of the negative effects of the FGM practices.

"This issue of female genital mutilation is very prevalent, and we think that stronger measures should be taken by government to ensure that people stop such brutal practices," he noted.

Woods said while it is true that he respects "our own tradition, there are some bad traditional practices that we should as much as possible try to desist from...and government must use its power to stop whosoever is engaged in it."

He said the cutting of female genitals causes lot of harm to the victims including complicated health and delivery challenges that lead to their early deaths. Added to that is major social and sexual humiliation that these victims face, leading to some finding it difficult to get married in modern days.

"If young women's genitals are being cut, it causes a very serious harm to that person for life time; for me I consider that as a criminal act," Woods asserted.

The person's risk of getting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases become very high, especially during the cutting process, he said.

Woods: "Most of the women that have come and reported to us, begging not to be named, have told us the devastating effects this thing has on them. Some find it very difficult staying in their married homes; some face serious medical problems due to infections caused by the genital mutilation, and we see that this act is very dehumanizing, and is a violation of the fundamental rights of people who are forced into it, and I think that our traditional leaders should try to put a stop to that aspect of our culture with immediate effect."

Woods said he is aware that discussing an issue like FGM in Liberia is a taboo and means trouble, but he has no option but to get involved in such trouble to campaign to reduce the number of women facing this horrific reality.

"I know I will be getting into trouble, but this is a cause we must be prepared for, be prepared to face and fight," he continued: "If our women must have the dignity they deserve, these practices must come to end, and we have to be bold enough to tell our traditional leaders that this practice is not good."

Woods said FIND was not against cultural and tradition practices which make societies, especially those practiced for generation, "but cutting of the genitals is very dangerous to the health and wellbeing of our young women."

He said he was fearless in his call. "We stand ready at anytime to be called by the Legislature, traditional council and whoever. We stand ready to face them as it relates to this issue of FGM to dialogue...or get into the battle to ensure that this practice is put to stop."

He said "anything that goes against the fundamental rights of a human being is a human rights violation."

He said "sorry" to those who are already victims, but said "that's why we now need to raise awareness to sensitize those who are targeted as next victims. It is very, very terrible."

The human rights activist indicated that traditional leaders must understand that the practice is not good and should desist from arguing that people are being "paid" by the West to campaign against the practice.

"That's what they always tell us when we talk on these issues, but we do not look at it from that perspective because human rights have nothing to do with western and African culture. Human right is fundamental."

Recently, International Affairs Minister Blamo Nelson warned traditional leaders that no citizen should be forced into practicing any cultural rituals that he or she does not want. Those who violate will face bitter consequences in line with the laws of the state, he insisted.

He was however questioned by some lawmakers for making such pronouncements against long practiced traditional norms.

Woods said the Minister needs to muster the political will to ensure that the mandate is respected. He said even though some traditional leaders have misinterpreted the Minister in his (Minister's) very presence, has had never corrected them. "I think this is for political reason, for fear, and people should be bold and stand for something."

He said FIND will anytime soon launch a massive awareness, and hotlines would be released to the public to seek the organization's intervention when people are being forced into the act by their parents.

"They should just give us a call and we will be able to come in immediately to take legal action against that person trying to force someone to do FGM--whether it is your mother, you grandmother, whosoever."

The FINF Chief said:"There is no better way of modernizing FGM, it must stop, it needs to stop and we want it stopped immediately, and our people must listen to us and stop."

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