Chief Zanzan Karwor: ‘We need plenty sacrifice to say goodbye to our tradition’
As the Government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection in collaboration with UN Women, observed the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation in the country, there were telling signs that the prospects of eradicating of the practice from Liberia appear encouraging — and painstakingly so.
In spite of significant amounts of awareness raised over the years about the harmful nature of the practice of FGM, the National Traditional Council of Liberia has been entrenched in the practice.
“We are traditional people, but this is something we have been inside for a very long time. So if your want for us to cancel our society, we need to do plenty sacrifice to say goodbye to our tradition,” the head of the Traditional Council, Chief Zanzan Karwor, told a United Nations-sponsored annual awareness against FGM over the weekend.
Speaking earlier at the program, UN Women Country Representative, Marie Goreth Nizigama, told the traditional leaders that many women and girls suffer tremendously due to the practice of FGM as they live with devastating health consequences. According to her, the survivors often live with health problems such as pain, infertility, anxiety and depression.
The awareness day, which normally takes place on February 6 every year since it was established in 2003, took place this time on Friday, February 5, 2021, at Fortville, St. John River District, Grand Bassa County. The event was graced by hundreds of traditional leaders, government officials and international partners under the theme, “Together We Can Make A Difference in Ending FGM,” which is important and timely as it comes in the context of the COVID 19 pandemic which has negatively and disproportionately affected women and girls in Liberia and around the world.
The day was also held in partnership with the European Union and the United Nations Spotlight Initiative — that equipped women and girls to earn an income from alternative sources such as climate-smart agriculture, making soap, or tailoring.
Madam Nizigama underscored that girls who undergo FGM are also more susceptible to HIV infections and risk serious complications when giving birth and, in worst cases, FGM also leads to death.
“If we want our young girls to grow up safely and healthy, we need all levels of society to say no to FGM,” she warned.
According to her, about fifty percent of girls and women aged between ages 15 and 49 have undergone FGM while globally; an estimated two hundred million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of FGM.
Additionally, Madam Nigizama said over twenty-five million people in around eighteen thousand communities across fifteen countries have publicly renounced the practice since 2008, leading to a reduction of the practice at the global level.
“This is a significant progress, and Liberia needs to make that change for which policies actions and resources are required,” she said.
Liberia, she explained, has had its gains in the fight against FGM including, conducting an inventory that documented a total of 1,355 females traditional zoes which has allowed Liberia to strategically target the zoes and provide them with alternative economic livelihood activities in the five Spotlight Counties.
“These zoes have successfully organized village savings and loans associations, generating some alternative income in the place of FGM,” Nizigama noted, being hopeful that traditional leaders will eventually come around.
“We have to continue to engage with traditional leaders,” she said. “I think we are making progress because before we were not allowed to talk about FGM, but now the traditional leaders themselves are talking about it.”
However, the head of Liberia’s Traditional Council, Chief Zanzan Karwor, has resisted international pressure to end FGM in Liberia.
“The United Nations and its partners have placed traditional leaders in a difficult situation by calling on us to abolish FGM,” Karwor said, arguing that the livelihoods of the elders are built on preparing the women and girls to become successful wives.
Karwor, who spoke through an interpreter, said he wants to see broader and sustained consultations with traditional leaders involved in FGM to help them find other means of work.
He, however, called on the partners to revisit the Ganta Policy (temporary document) signed in June 2019 to suspend all Sande Society activities including FGM for one year, highlighting an increased level of traditional leaders’ commitment and ownership in ending the practice. Chief Karwor said the document has expired and therefore needs to be revisited by all parties in ensuring that the right thing is done before canceling practice.
At the same time, Gender Minister, Williametta E Saydee Tarr, says plans are underway to permanently protect women and girls from FGM by making the practice illegal for good.
“We will continue to speak out about the risk and realities of FGM as it has lasting physical and mental consequences that need to be discussed so that girls and women no longer have to suffer in silence,” she said.
Minister Tarr called on the traditional leaders to “build a consensus” that would abolish FGM, adding the UN, European Union and the United States were working with the Liberian authorities to end the practice.
With support from international partners, she said, the government was implementing a pilot project to provide new skills to traditional priests that operate the bush schools.
Minister Tarr disclosed that a learning centre in Grand Cape Mount County will encourage other business opportunities such as catering, soap-making and tailoring.