Liberia Records Another Anti-FGM Milestone

…. as Nimba County practitioners turn over their ‘tools’

Liberia recorded another significant milestone in its fight against female genital mutilation (FGM) as former practitioners from Nimba County, in northern Liberia, handed over traditional tools they used to perform FGM, signaling an end to practice. 

The traditional ceremony took place on Friday, 27 October 2023, at the Gbanquoi Vocational and Heritage Centre, constructed by UN Women under the auspices of the European Union and United Nations Spotlight Initiative. 

According to a UN Women press release, the ceremony marked a moment of transformation as former traditional practitioners, clad in white headgear and carrying containers draped in white cloths, surrendered their tools to Chief Zanzan Karwor, the Chairperson of the National Council of Chiefs and Elders of Liberia.

Various stakeholders, including representatives from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection, the Embassy of Sweden, UN Women, UNDP, UNFPA, civil society organizations, local authorities from Nimba, and traditional practitioners from various counties across Liberia, witnessed the ceremony.

Of the eleven counties where FGM is practiced to conduct traditional rituals, Nimba has become the fourth to effectively end the practice. Other traditional ceremonies to end FGM have to date been held in Montserrado, Grand Cape Mount, and Bong Counties. This achievement aligns with Chief Zanzan Karwor’s landmark proclamation on 06 February 2023, to ban FGM throughout Liberia.

The ban entails putting an end to the harmful practice of cutting women and girls while upholding positive cultural practices, such as singing, dancing, and weaving, among others. This is now widely known as ‘initiation without mutilation.’

Chief Zanzan Karwor reaffirmed traditional leaders’ commitment to abandon the FGM practice in Liberia, while Ambassador Juli Endee, Executive Director for Crusaders of Peace and cultural Queen of Liberia, emphasized that traditional leaders chose to end FGM voluntarily, driven by their belief in doing the right thing to accelerate development.

Ambassador Juli Endee expressed her deep appreciation to development partners for the support. She acknowledged the importance of reaching out to the ‘real people,’ the traditional leaders and the Zoes (traditional practitioners) to ensure the success of this transformative process.

Comfort Lamptey, UN Women Country Representative for Liberia, applauded Chief Zanzan Karwor for his leadership and commitment as well as embracing change, safeguarding the cultural passage rites of women and girls without the harmful effects of FGM.

She highlighted that Nimba County has one of the four vocational and heritage centers established with the support of the European Union and United Nations through the Spotlight Initiative. These centres aim to provide former traditional practitioners of FGM with alternative economic livelihood programs while preserving cultural heritage without FGM.

Nimba county authorities expressed their appreciation for the construction of heritage centers and urged former practitioners to utilize these centers for empowerment activities, ensuring they serve their intended purpose.

In addition, the Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection, Hon. Parleh Harris, expressed her gratitude to all stakeholders, including traditional leaders, for their courage in ending FGM. She encouraged everyone to move forward with unwavering determination, as the practice has now been banned. “We will now be telling our story to other countries about how we did it,” she said.

UN Women is supporting the roll out of the ban on FGM with funding from the Government of Sweden.