Government to end FGM in Montserrado County
The Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection in partnership with UNWomen is expected to finally end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) practices in Montserrado County.
According to a press release, the program to end FGM will be held today, Monday, February 6, in Todee District, Montserrado County.
Representatives of the Government of Liberia, the European Union (EU), the Embassy of the United States, civil society organizations, and religious leaders, amongst others are expected to attend today’s cermony.
Hence, today, Monday, February 6, is being observed as International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation around the world.
It is a United Nations-sponsored annual awareness day that takes place on February 6 each year as part of the UN’s efforts to eradicate female genital mutilation, first introduced in 2003.
In Liberia, dozens of women are living with the aftereffect of this harmful practice and many more are at risk.
FGM is heavily encroached in Liberian culture, dating back many centuries. Strong taboos surrounding the practice and associated Sande secret societies make tackling the practice challenging.
Liberia remains one of the three West African countries that do not have a law criminalizing FGM despite being a signatory to ratified regional and international human rights instruments that condemn the practice as a human rights violation, containing the Maputo Protocol.
On her last day in office in 2018, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf signed an executive order on the Domestic Violence bill to ban FGM on girls under 18 years old. However, the ban expired in February 2019.
Additionally, the punishments included rehabilitation and fines which are determined on a case-by-case basis — none of which deterred practicing communities.
Traditional leaders have significant power and influence over the Liberian community and often over policymakers. Once girls reach age 18, they will face immense pressure to undergo FGM to remain in the community.
The temporary ban on FGM was not as effective as initially anticipated during its one-year existence as a law. This was mainly due to a lack of knowledge on the existence of the ban and a lack of coordinated multi-sectoral implementation by state agencies.
With the existence of the Executive Order, the number of Sande bushes in Liberia has increased with the practice now extending to 11 counties from the previous 10.
Other than the temporary ban on FGM, there has never been any solid attempt at making FGM 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 or 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.
In July 2011, the members of the politically influential Sande secret society who had kidnapped and forcibly subjected Ruth to FGM were sentenced to three years imprisonment; however, they appealed the judgment and were released on bail. The appeal has been pending at the Supreme Court with no hearing date set and the perpetrators remain free.
In March 2017, 16-year-old Zaye Doe died in the Tappita area, Nimba County in the Sande bush during forced mutilation. The traditional leaders (Zoes) subjected Zaye and 25 more girls to FGM despite the government ban on Sande Secret Society operations, including FGM.
Also On 28 September 2021, Parker’s 15-year-old daughter was abducted by traditional leaders in Liberia, known as the zoes, and taken from Mount Barclay, a town near the capital Monrovia, to the Sande Bush. There, she was forcibly initiated into the zoes’ secret society. For these women, initiation includes female genital mutilation (FGM).
The National traditional council and the Government of Liberia, along with the UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador for the abolishment of FGM in Africa, during her visit to Liberia in 2022, conducted a ritual event to end FGM practice in all parts of Liberia.
Dukureh, herself a survivor of FGM and child marriage, visited the country last year from November 19-27 to support the government’s efforts to put an end to the inhumane practices against women and girls.
Ambassador Jaha Dukureh, a Gambian women’s rights activist, was appointed to support regional and global advocacy efforts to end FGM and child marriage in Africa.
Her visit follows Liberia’s signing up for the Generation Equality Action Coalition on Gender-Based Violence in 2021 and is intended to support Liberia’s efforts towards the eradication of FGM through multi-stakeholder engagements and high-level advocacy and social mobilization,” said Comfort Lamptey, UN Women Liberia Country Representative, in a press release.
However, the final abolishment of FGM practices in Montserrado County is in fulfillment of the commitment made at the end of a consultative meeting among traditional leaders held in Ganta, Nimba County in 2019. Press Release