12 July 2019

Liberia Under Pressure to Enact Comprehensive Anti-FGM Law

... .To protect girls, women

Equality Now, an international NGO with sub-chapter in Nairobi, Kenya, has joined local partners by calling on President George Weah, the Legislative Branch of government and all other government agencies to take urgent and necessary steps to enact and enforce a comprehensive law that would ban the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), or else impose tough penalties on violators.

Equality Now is a non-governmental organization (NGO) founded in 1992, whose purpose is to work for the protection and promotion of the human rights of women and girls around the world. The group provides an international framework for spreading awareness of issues and providing support to local grassroots groups working to address issues of concern to it. The organization lists its primary concerns as sexual violence, trafficking of women, female genital mutilation, and discrimination in law.

Last week the Legislative arm of the Liberian government backtracked on efforts to criminalize the much-talked-about FGM or female circumcision in the country by deleting sections from the proposed Domestic Violence Bill (2014) that had sought to outlaw the practice.

This, according to Equality, was a clear demonstration of the lack of political will necessary to drive efforts to end this human rights violation and to protect women and girls from the harm practice.

It accused the male-dominated, law making institution of showing the contemptuous attitude within which women and girls' rights issues are held in Liberia.

The lawmakers have, however, contended that FGM does not fall in the domestic violence category because it does not occur in the home and, therefore, needs to be treated in a separate legislation.

"It is unfortunate that this is happening at a time when there are no other forms of legal relief through which the rights of girls and women can be upheld and perpetrators of FGM held liable, even though Liberia is bound by national, regional and international obligations to do so," Equality Now said.

The organization reminds that ending harmful practices such as FGM and child marriage is a key component of the Sustainable Development Goals, which contains a specific target (5.3) that seeks to end this practice by 2030.

"This aspiration is further translated into state obligations as captured in international law and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol) to which Liberia has been a party since 2007.

"Liberia is also bound by the African Union Heads of State and Government Decision No. Assembly/AU/Dec.737 (XXXII), a continental initiative on Ending FGM, which calls on Member States to urgently enact and implement strong legislative frameworks to end FGM," the group explains.

However, according to Equality, current measures put in place for the end of FGM have been far from sufficient. "Other than the ban that former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf put in place in 2018 prohibiting FGM for one year, there is no law in Liberia that expressly criminalizes the practice.

"And while more than 50 percent of girls and women in the country have been mutilated (cut), no perpetrator has been prosecuted for inflicting FGM on girls and women. As a result, women and girls continue to face the risk of indiscriminately undergoing the practice and their lives put at risk," the organization maintained.

"The government must also speak with one voice on this matter, publicly reject the practice and support educational outreach to relevant communities and local chiefs on the harms of FGM, women's rights and health matters must be treated as a national priority.

"Lastly, 2019 and 2020 are significant years as they mark the 25th anniversary celebration and review of the International Conference on Population and Development program of Action and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action respectively.

Taking concrete steps to remove all legal and systemic barriers hindering women's and girls' full participation in society is critical.

On January 19, 2018, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf signed Executive Order #92 banning the practice of FGM for one year. The temporary ban however only covered girls below the age of 18, and imposed lenient penalties on those would violet to initiate anyone. Other than the temporary ban on FGM, there has never been any solid attempt at making the practice illegal in Liberia.

The few cases that have gone through the justice system have been covered under Section 242 of the Penal Code, which speaks to malicious and unlawful injuries towards another person by cutting off or otherwise depriving him/her of any of the members of his body, finding a person guilty of a felony. This is punishable by up to five years in prison.

FGM is heavily entrenched in the Liberian culture, dating back many centuries. Strong taboos make it one of the hardest countries to crack when it comes to tackling the practice.

And just like it is in many other nations that are notorious for FGM, no medical reasons have been cited as the basis for mutilating the genitals of girls and women. In fact all evidence pointing to the dangers and long term complications of FGM has largely been disregarded as perpetrators work doubly hard to ensure that girls transition to womanhood through the practice of FGM.

Equality Now is a non-governmental organization founded in 1992 whose purpose is to work for the protection and promotion of the human rights of women and girls around the world.

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