Liberia: Gov’t Hailed for Fight against FGM

Jahu Dukreh in an interactive session with journalists in monrovia


... “We cannot end FGM without the involvement of traditional leaders. The communities have to take ownership of it,” Dukureh said.

A Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women has applauded the Liberian government for its success in enacting a three-year moratorium on female genital mutilation (FGM).

While FGM practice is still prevalent across the country, Jaha Dukureh thinks it will decline with continued support from local authorities and proper livelihood assistance.

“We cannot end FGM without the involvement of traditional leaders. The communities have to take ownership of it,” she said.

FGM is part of the initiation rites of women and girls into the Sande society. Sande members are trained in domestic skills to become good wives.  According to a UN report, 44 Percent of Liberian girls and women belong to the tribes that still practice Sande Bush schools and it is likely almost all have undergone FGM. 

The practice sees a traditional leader known as a “zoe”, cut the inner and outer labia from girls, and usually, the clitoris is completely removed. Often the zoes use a razor blade for the extremely painful procedure.”

“The practice has been blamed for infection, excessive bleeding, trauma, and lifelong health problems in later life, including difficulty in childbirth.”

Dukureh, a survivor of FGM and child marriage, is visiting the country from November 19-27 to support the government’s efforts to put an end to the inhumane practices against women and girls. She is expected to do a public screening of a documentary film, ‘Jaha’s Promise’, which is about her life and advocacy efforts. 

And while in Liberia, Dukureh is also expected to engage with various stakeholders, including traditional and religious leaders to discuss issues surrounding FGM; a solidarity walk to end gender-based violence in Liberia; the launch of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, as well as the launch of a vocational and heritage center in Sonkay Town, Liberia.

The UN goodwill ambassador, who hails from The Gambia, was appointed to support regional and global advocacy efforts to end FGM and child marriage in Africa. 

“The 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.

With the support of women’s organizations and civil society, she contributed to the Gambian government’s ban on FGM in 2015 after massive youth mobilization and campaigning. 

“She also contributed to an investigation on FGM in the USA by former President Obama’s administration and the subsequent Summit to End FGM at the United States Institute of Peace.”

In February 2022, the National Council of Chiefs and Elders of Liberia in collaboration with the Government of Liberia proclaimed a three-year ban on the practice of FGM from 2022 to 2025. 

Nonetheless, Liberia remains one of the three West African countries that do not have a law criminalizing FGM, despite having signed and ratified regional and international human rights instruments condemning the practice as a human rights violation, including the Maputo Protocol that seeks to outlaw FGM.

UN Women is supporting the efforts of the Government of Liberia to eliminate gender-based violence through the Spotlight Initiative, a global program that aims to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, including harmful practices such as FGM.

Liberia is one of the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East, where female genital cutting is still widely practiced, while at least 24 nations in Africa have passed legislation criminalizing it.

Liberia has signed and ratified several regional and international human rights instruments. Those instruments call upon the state to ensure that women and girls are protected from all forms of violence and discrimination including FGC. They include the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

Human rights advocates in Liberia have tried for years to have the practice banned.  It was initially included in the country’s New Domestic Violence Law (DVL) but opponents managed to have it removed by the time the law passed in 2019. On January 19, 2018, just before turning over power to President George Weah, former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf signed Executive Order 92, temporarily banning the practice of FGM for a year, but the ban lapsed a year later.

Dukureh’s visit will coincide with the start of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign which will be observed from November 25 to December 10, under the global theme, ‘Unite, Activism to end violence against women and girls” and the national theme, ‘With one voice, let us unite to end violence against women, girls, and children.’

The Sonkay Town Heritage Center is one of four vocational and heritage centers established by UN Women under the framework of the European Union and the United Nations Spotlight Initiative. The four centers are expected to provide alternative economic livelihood programs to former traditional practitioners of FGM in Liberia.