The practice of FGM in the Sande Bush has sparked a wide range of discussions, with the discussion in some quarters now focusing on whether it can now be eradicated from our cultural existence.
While there are wide speculations of its dangers and health risks, traditional women, who have participated in the practice, have argued that they have not experienced any negative side effects. They have, however, maintained that the positive aspects of FGM be mentioned.
"I joined the Sande Bush. It hasn't had any negative effect on me. I'm in my 50s. I’ve been able to take care of my home and so on since then" says E.Musu Kono, a traditional leader from the National Practisioners’ Council of Liberia.
On Tuesday January 13, 2015, a media roundtable discussion organized by the Women of Liberia Peace Network (WOLPNET) was held under the theme "Addressing the Issues of the Media- Non Coverage of FGM Cases in Liberia".
The platform enabled strong voices, ideas, suggestions, worries and considerations to be heard by a large audience comprising traditional leaders and all those who hold concerns relative to FGM.
Among the attendees were Hon. Joseph Janga, Assistance Minister for Custom and Cultural Affairs at the Ministry of Gender, E. Musu Kono from the National Practitioners Council of Liberia and Baba S. Zulu, Vice Chairman of the National Council of chiefs and elders of Liberia.
Also invited was Sackah Molubah, a member of the National Council of Chiefs and Elders in Liberia and William Janga, the director of Culture at the Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Internal Affairs to name a few.
Maye Azango, a female reporter was also present and had an opportunity to voice her opinions and concerns about FGM.
“My concern is why is the activity practiced at all when it can ruin so many women and girls’ lives physically and mentally?” she questioned. I know a woman who contracted AIDS/HIV while undergoing the ritual,” Azango said.
According to Marian Gonyor, the acting Executive Director of (WOLPNET), four counties were periodically visited on the issue of FGM, including Lofa, Cape Mount and Bomi. A survey was conducted through a questionnaire that was given to community dwellers on the issue.
“This year around we want to focus on changing the strategy by working with youths, Zoes and new stake holders. We will be sending out more questionnaires to various counties and we want at least two traditional women from each county assigned while we're having these discussions,” she added.
Meanwhile, Gonyor says they will look into the issue of how children are recruited into the Sande bushes, and what the appropriate age a child should be before being taken there.
“For us, we are advocating the rights of the children. We feel that children should be able to go into the society bush at their own will. And we’re also looking at eradicating totally the practice of circumcising girls and women without stopping culture and the Sande bushes,” she added.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Vennetta Johnson Freeman, broadcast coordinator for the Liberian women Democracy radio says that her entity has over the years spoken on the issues affiliated with FGM.
“We at Democracy radio highlight all the issues that women are faced with and have always looked into this issue. Though we are aware many media outlets have not covered such things in depth, we have,” she told participants.
But according to Gonyor, the level of coverage when it comes to the issue of FGM has been drastically low, and the discussion was concentrated on finding ways to bring the coverage ratio to a higher level.
“Fear surrounding culture, being afraid to report FGM in the media because of what could happen is what many have stressed as being the reason why they don’t cover Sande bushes,” Gonyor added.
According to Azango, she tried to highlight some of the issues relating to FGM years ago and was threatened to the extent that she had to flee into hiding.
“There are so many things happening in the bush besides the circumcising of women and girls that needs to be stopped or changed around. Whenever we try to get more information, they threaten to chase behind us, why?” she exclaimed.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Roslyn Peters, who is the general secretary for United Nations in Liberia and works to empower young women and girls said, “The problem here is, information that comes out of the media at times is not always appropriate or right. FGM is health related, and I believe the media should be able to give accurate information that enables people to take on the right decisions,” she added.
“Help the people to understand the implication when it comes to health, school and development. When it comes to health, find out if standardized tools that are being used are sterilized. Let the public know that there are positive things in our culture, learn the domestics and respect it. It’s not only about circumcision, it’s a school by itself,” she advised.
Meanwhile WOLPNET says it intends to hold a national Dialogue Conference that is scheduled to take place February 16-17, 2015. Hundreds of Zoes from 10 counties that practice FGM are expected to be present.