Liberia: Vice President Slams Passage of Domestic Violence Law - Blow to Fight Against FGM

Monrovia — Liberia's Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor is calling on women to join her in raising their voices against the passage today of the much-anticipated Domestic Violence Laws.

Speaking to FrontPageAfrica shortly after the bill passed Thursday, the Vice President lamented: "Today, the male-dominated Liberian legislature, passed the long-awaited Domestic Violence Law, but removed a very critical component; the section which made Female Genital Mutilation illegal under our laws. As a champion of the rights of women, I categorically denounce this decision. FGM is a violation of woman's right to choose and human rights; which affects her physically and emotionally for the rest of her life. I therefore call upon the women of Liberia to join me in raising our voices to condemn this practice."

The European Union, one of Liberia's major donors and partners has over the years contributed actively toward the elimination of Female Genital Mutilation and one diplomat speaking to FrontPageAfrica Thursday after expressed disappointment at the passage of the law.

In recent years, discussion on FGM has been included in human rights and political dialogues with partner countries and in annual dialogues with civil society organizations.

Female genital mutilation consists of the (partial or complete) removal of the external female genitalia, and the infliction of other injuries to the female genitalia for no medical reasons. There are several variations, including partial or complete removal of the clitoris, of the labia minora and majora, the narrowing of the vaginal opening by joining the two sides of the wound, leaving only a small opening for urine and menstrual fluids, and any other non-medical injury such as scraping, incising, pricking or burning. Female genital mutilation causes pain, infection, problems with sexual intercourse, problems with urination, problems with childbirth, and death.

More than 500,000 women in Europe have undergone FGM/C and 200 million women worldwide. Health experts say if the practice continues at the current pace, some 68 million girls will be cut between 2015 and 2030 in 25 countries where FGM is routinely practiced and data available.

FGM is also defined by the Council of Europe's Istanbul Convention, which requires its criminalization. Its victims have to be protected in accordance with the Convention's support and protection measures in those Member States that have ratified the Convention. The European Commission has proposed the EU accession to the Istanbul Convention in March 2016.

As an issue of great concern the European Union tackles FGM in various ways in its internal and external action, which includes better legal protection and improved access to support for victims, instilling social change and capacity building of practitioners. The actions are based on the focus areas of the Communication towards the elimination of female genital mutilation from 25 November 2013, on fighting harmful practices such as FGM, as violence of any kind against women and girls, as well as on the Gender Action Plan from 2016- 2020.

On Tuesday, during a public hearing on the Domestic Violence law, most of the 13 lawmakers considered as ambiguous the 'harassment component' of the law which include repeated making telephone calls to or inducing another person to make telephone calls, using the internet or other electronic means to make unwanted or malice communication and repeatedly watching or loitering outside or near the building where a person resides, works, carries on business or studies.

The lawmakers argued that the "emotional, verbal and psychological abuse" is also ambiguous, which means in the law, a pattern or one time occurrence of degrading or humiliating conduct towards a person including any behavior that causes emotional damage and reduction of self-esteem, or that harms and disturbs full development, or that aims at degrading or controlling a persons' actions.

The Vice President's stance is rare in a nation where condemnation of the practice could mean political suicide for members of the national legislature fearing political fallout.

As of 2013, according to a UNICEF report, only 22 countries had passed legislations or decrees against FGM/C practice; Among them, Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Mauritania, Niger and Nigeria. Liberia is amongst six countries which are home to 16 million girls - including Chad, Mali, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan - that still do not even criminalize FGM, according to a major report examining laws in the 28 African countries where the tradition is endemic. Only two countries, Kenya and Uganda, have robust legislations.

Last year, inter agencies within the United Nations, comprising the United Nations Human Rights Commission, the Joint United Nations Program on HIVAIDS, the United Nations Development Program, the Economic Commission for Africa, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, United Nations Population Fund, the United Nations Refugees Agency, the United Nations Development Fund for Women and the World Health Organization urged all States, international and national organizations, civil society and communities to uphold the rights of girls and women, while affirming the respective agencies commitment to the elimination of female genital mutilation within a generation.

Former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, on her last day in office, signed an executive order abolishing the ancient practice.

The final decision now rests with President George Manneh Weah who could issue another Executive Order or veto the bill when it gets on his desk. Absent of that, many of Liberia's international partners see a major blow to efforts to rid the controversial traditional practice out of Liberia.

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