Liberia: “FGM Bill Must Be Passed”

— Co-Chair of the Taskforce on Ending FGM in Liberia, Julie Endee, tells international partners and women zoes

Juli Endee, Co-Chair of the Taskforce on Ending Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), is urging development partners and traditional women to continue advocating for the passage of the FGM bill before the national legislature.

She said the passage of the bill intended to ensure that the laws of Liberia reflect their commitment to protecting the fundamental rights and dignity of women and girls.

In a brief remark on Tuesday, February 6, during the closure of the bush school (Sande), Endee said Liberia remains one of the few countries in the region to outlaw FGM. 

“As a cultural ambassador of Liberia and the traditional queen, executive director of the Liberia Crusaders for Peace, I join hands with Chief Zanzan Karwor, Ma. Setta Fofana-Saah, [and] will not relent until the FGM bill is passed into law in Liberia. We will continue to advocate, we will mobilize stakeholders, we will continue to lobby, and we will continue to pursue where necessary until the bill is passed,” she added.

However, the FGM bill before the national legislature is titled an ‘Act Prohibiting Female Genital Mutilation of 2022’. If it becomes law, it could fulfill the wishes of activists who have long campaigned for FGM to be outlawed in Liberia, a country of about 4.6 million people. Supporters of FGM argued that the ritual involving the partial or total removal of the external genitalia is a key rite of passage. According to the WHO, it often causes health problems and can be fatal.

The closure of the Bush School coincided with the handover of Vezela Women’s Vocational and Heritage Center as well as commemorating the International Day of Zero Tolerance on FGM

Additionally, Madam Endee said that if passed into law, the bill will support the ban, and now that they have the traditional ban, they need a law from the national legislature to pass, and that bill will support the ban.

“As we gathered here today in Lofa County to commemorate international zero tolerance for female genital mutilation (FGM), I am deeply honored to stand before you as we unite our voices in solidarity against this practice,” she said

“FGM,” Madam Endee said, “is a human rights issue that has beset their society for too long, giving a million girls and women around the world the right to live free from violence. Today, as we stand at the edge of change, we must reaffirm our relentless commitment to protecting the rights and dignity of every girl and woman in Liberia.”

She reminded the audience that as they reflect on the significance of this bill; it is important to strengthen the voices of the women under the resilience of their community and pledge to create a future where every girl can grow up from the shadow of FGM — a future where her voice is heard, respected, and her future is full of hope and promise. 

“Therefore, we, the women of Liberia, will continue to promote initiation without mutilation. As you can see from what we have done, our women are not entrusted to Kpowa Sande; they will continue to uphold the culture and tradition of our county without FGM, so we support the initiation without mutilation,” Madam Endee maintained.

For her part, Comfort Lamptey, UN Women Liberia Country Representative commended traditional leaders and communities for their unwavering commitment to ending FGM in Liberia and embracing the concept of ‘initiation without mutilation’ which upholds positive cultural practices as part of the rites of passage of young girls, whilst eliminating FGM.  

“Although progress has been made in eliminating FGM, Liberia is one of only three counties in the region yet to outlaw FGM,” says Lamptey. “We call on all stakeholders to continue ensuring collective commitment to ending this harmful practice and ensuring the fundamental rights and dignity of women and girls are realized. We call on lawmakers to ensure that the FGM Bill that is currently before the legislature is passed into law.” 

Ishmael Walker, senior liaison officer at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, acknowledged in his opening remarks local and international partners, including the UN Women, for supporting traditional women with alternative livelihood centers along with the daily savings loan to improve their lives.

According to him, the MIA remains committed to every document signed with traditional people on the practice of sande in Liberia. He also appealed to the partners to extend their support to the other counties that are doing the same thing to ensure that they get involved in the process.

Walker further admonished the sande zoes to respect their own document, noting that the government of Liberia and its partners are not taking away the culture of Liberia but want to ensure an improved want that will better the lives of ordinary citizens.

Meanwhile, Lofa is the fifth county to conduct traditional ceremonies to ban FGM and close bush schools in the country and has one of the four vocational and heritage centers established by UN Women with funding from the European Union and the United Nations through the Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women, harmful practices, and promote sexual and reproductive health and rights.