Liberia: ‘People Must Willingly Say FGM is Bad’

VP Taylor, Amb. Dukureh, Gender Minister Saydee-Tarr, along with other guests cutting the ribbon to the heritage center Todee district, Montserrado County  

Liberia: ‘People Must Willingly Say FGM is Bad’

...Says UN goodwill ambassador, pledged to build heritage centers in all counties

United Nations Women Goodwill ambassador, Jaha Dukureh, said that the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) can only be eradicated if people willingly accept that the practice is bad and the need to stop it. 

She said people should be given something to realize FGM is bad, they must willingly accept that the practice is harmful to women and girls.

“Your heritage centers, you will have it in every single county. But we are not doing it for you to stop practicing FGM. We are doing it to uplift you out of poverty. We want you to willingly say FGM is bad and we want to stop it,” Dukureh said. 

Dukureh, an FGM and child marriage survivor, is in the country to help the government’s effort to end the cruel practices against women and girls.  

“When I became a child bride and had my 3 children, it wasn’t because I wanted to be a mother, it was because of the respect and love that I have for my dad. Even though I suffered in that marriage, I stayed there because my elders wanted me to be there but do we want that to continue for the future?”

Launching the 16 days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) on Friday, Nov 25, 2022, at the newly constructed heritage center by UN Women under the framework of the European Union and United Nations Spotlight Initiative, in Songhay Town, Todee district, Montserrado County, Dukureh said African women suffer GBV because they are poor, and until women are earning their own money, GBV cannot be eliminated.  

“When a woman is beaten by her husband and you tell her to leave, the first thing she tells you is where would I go with my children; who will accept me in my father's house? There’s not enough space for me.” 

Held under the global theme, “Unite! Activism to End Violence against Women and Girls”, the 16 Days of Activism against GBV is an annual international campaign that kicks off on 25 November, for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs until December 10, Human Rights Day. 

The 16 Days Campaign was started by activists at the inauguration of the Women’s Global Leadership Institute in 1991. It continues to be coordinated each year by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership. 

It is used as an organizing strategy by individuals and organizations around the world to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls.

In support of this civil society initiative, the United Nations Secretary-General launched in 2008 the campaign UNiTE by 2030 to End Violence against Women, which runs parallel to the 16 Days of Activism. 

This year, Liberia is celebrating under the theme, “With one Voice, Let’s End Violence Against Women, Girls and Children”.  

The day was commemorated with traditional leaders including women zoes, chiefs, Vice president Jewel Howard Taylor, Gender Minister Williametta Saydee-Tarr, European Union Ambassador Laurent Delahousse, Health Minister Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah and the head of the Liberia Traditional Council, Chief Zanzan Karwor.

“This can’t be an exchange, Chief Zanzan,” Dukureh said.  “If I commit to building 7 others or raising the money to build 7 other centers in Liberia, I am not doing it for you to change your position, but I am doing it because it's my duty for Africa. I know the level of poverty in this continent but as your daughter I am also asking you [to admit] that female genital mutilation is harmful.”

She pleaded with chief Karwor to actively engage lawmakers in ensuring that the FGM bill is passed. “We are begging you to help us and tell lawmakers to pass these laws and do it for us and my personal commitment. I am going to advocate for Liberia and even part of the money that I make individually, I am committing that part of that money will go to these heritage centers.”

In response, chief Karwor pledged to work with lawmakers and traditional leaders in ensuring that FGM is eradited. 

Vice president Jewel Howard Taylor also pleaded with chief Karwor to engage the male legislators to ensure that the bill is passed. 

UN Women Country Representative, Comfort Lamptey, who read the UN Secretary-General’s message, said violence against women and girls is the most pervasive human rights violation in the world. 

According to her, Every 11 minutes a woman or a girl is killed by her intimate partner or family member.  “We know that other scratches from COVId-19 inevitably led to even more physical abuse.”

Bong County, district six lawmaker, Moima Briggs Mensah, said apart from mutilating women and girls, there are other violence against women that needs to be eradicated. 

“We are talking about FGM, but what happens to the practices where men will put the bush outside when we go to run campaign?"

The Sonkay Town Heritage centre is one of four vocational and heritage centers established that  provide alternative economic livelihood programs to former traditional practitioners of FGM in Liberia.

In February 2022, the National Council of Chiefs and Elders, 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.

Dukureh, who hails from the Gambia, once experienced child marriage. As a UN goodwill ambassador, she was appointed to support regional and global advocacy efforts to end FGM and child marriage in Africa. 

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.