Liberia Under Pressure to Enact Comprehensive Anti-FGM Law

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FGM instruments

….To protect girls, women

Equality Now, an international NGO with sub-chapter in Nairobi, Kenya, has joined local partners by calling on President George Weah, the Legislative Branch of government and all other government agencies to take urgent and necessary steps to enact and enforce a comprehensive law that would ban the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), or else impose tough penalties on violators.

Equality Now is a non-governmental organization (NGO) founded in 1992, whose purpose is to work for the protection and promotion of the human rights of women and girls around the world. The group provides an international framework for spreading awareness of issues and providing support to local grassroots groups working to address issues of concern to it. The organization lists its primary concerns as  sexual violence, trafficking of women, female genital mutilation, and discrimination in law.

Last week the Legislative arm of the Liberian government backtracked on efforts to criminalize the much-talked-about FGM or female circumcision in the country by deleting sections from the proposed Domestic Violence Bill (2014) that had sought to outlaw the practice.

This, according to Equality, was a clear demonstration of the lack of political will necessary to drive efforts to end this human rights violation and to protect women and girls from the harm practice.

It accused the male-dominated, law making institution of showing the contemptuous attitude within which women and girls’ rights issues are held in Liberia.

The lawmakers have, however, contended that FGM does not fall in the domestic violence category because it does not occur in the home and, therefore, needs to be treated in a separate legislation.

“It is unfortunate that this is happening at a time when there are no other forms of legal relief through which the rights of girls and women can be upheld and perpetrators of FGM held liable, even though Liberia is bound by national, regional and international obligations to do so,” Equality Now said.

The organization reminds that ending harmful practices such as FGM and child marriage is a key component of the Sustainable Development Goals, which contains a specific target (5.3) that seeks to end this practice by 2030.

“This aspiration is further translated into state obligations as captured in international law and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol) to which Liberia has been a party since 2007.

“Liberia is also bound by the African Union Heads of State and Government Decision No. Assembly/AU/Dec.737 (XXXII), a continental initiative on Ending FGM, which calls on Member States to urgently enact and implement strong legislative frameworks to end FGM,” the group explains.

However, according to Equality, current measures put in place for the end of FGM have been far from sufficient. “Other than the ban that former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf put in place in 2018 prohibiting FGM for one year, there is no law in Liberia that expressly criminalizes the practice.

“And while more than 50 percent of girls and women in the country have been mutilated (cut), no perpetrator has been prosecuted for inflicting FGM on girls and women. As a result, women and girls continue to face the risk of indiscriminately undergoing the practice and their lives put at risk,” the organization maintained.

“The government must also speak with one voice on this matter, publicly reject the practice and support educational outreach to relevant communities and local chiefs on the harms of FGM, women’s rights and health matters must be treated as a national priority.

“Lastly, 2019 and 2020 are significant years as they mark the 25th anniversary celebration and review of the International Conference on Population and Development program of Action and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action respectively.

Taking concrete steps to remove all legal and systemic barriers hindering women’s and girls’ full participation in society is critical.

On January 19, 2018, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf signed Executive Order #92 banning the practice of FGM for one year. The temporary ban however only covered girls below the age of 18, and imposed lenient penalties on those would violet to initiate anyone. Other than the temporary ban on FGM, there has never been any solid attempt at making the practice illegal in Liberia.

The few cases that have gone through the justice system have been covered under Section 242 of the Penal Code, which speaks to malicious and unlawful injuries towards another person by cutting off or otherwise depriving him/her of any of the members of his body, finding a person guilty of a felony. This is punishable by up to five years in prison.

FGM is heavily entrenched in the Liberian culture, dating back many centuries. Strong taboos make it one of the hardest countries to crack when it comes to tackling the practice.

And just like it is in many other nations that are notorious for FGM, no medical reasons have been cited as the basis for mutilating the genitals of girls and women. In fact all evidence pointing to the dangers and long term complications of FGM has largely been disregarded as perpetrators work doubly hard to ensure that girls transition to womanhood through the practice of FGM.

Equality Now is a non-governmental organization founded in 1992 whose purpose is to work for the protection and promotion of the human rights of women and girls around the world.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Do the international community and NGOs really care about African and black lives? Or is this another opportunity to point out how barbaric and backwards African cultures are? First it was female circumcision, but that wasn’t graphic enough. So it became female genital circumcision. That still didn’t get the desire effect, so it became female genital mutilation or FGM and voila, all the bells and alarms went off. Now every African country where this is practiced is under pressure do something and do it quick. Never mind that this practice is sacred and been part of these societies for millennia. Never mind that this rite is interwoven in the fabric of these societies. That entire communities, their culture and traditions could come crashing down. That there is a strong possibility that the young could no longer look up to their elders and societies with reverence. That the old might lose their purpose and position; that something this old, this integral could disappear as early as tomorrow. That old heros and matriarchs could become villains as early as tomorrow with a stroke of pen in Monrovia. For the record, I do not support the practice. But the lack of respect and utter disregard for civility and the complete lack of sensitivity by the international community and their NGOs is appalling and reprehensible. By demanding an immediate end to this practice and not only that, making it a criminal offense, for me is an eerie reminder of how the church and their missionaries criminalized almost every aspect of African culture on contact, built churches on sacred grounds, turned the youth against their elders, and stopped the generational transfer of culture knowledge and thereby decimating entire societies.
    In all this talk about ending this initiation rite, I have yet to hear the GoL or the NGOs reaching out to the communities involved. Why aren’t they part of the discussion? With any respect and sensitivity, this is where the discussion should have started. And while we at it, let show some respect and sensitivity to these societies and the thousands of females who have already undergone this rite by taking this discussion out of the public domain. How would you feel, if you were a female who went through this initiation rite and felt proud that you that you did, only to find out, that your body was mutilated, that you were abused? And how is the GoL and their puppet masters NGOs plan on treating these ladies, who they now say were mutilated? That is a trauma, some training on how to live with that or some type of compensation must be in order.
    To show how clueless and insensitive the international community is, they fail to realize that these senators and representatives they are pressuring to sign this law, some may have come out of these same secret societies, or at the very least, have close relatives who are affiliated. So by signing this law, bring them in conflict with their families, their traditional societies and may jeopardize their chance of reelection or even their lives.
    Reach out to these communities respectfully and privately; get them involved without any time table or preconditions. And instead demanding an immediate end and criminalizing the practice, maybe it can be phased out. That is the respectful and sensitive thing to do instead of barking orders at a society and a practice that is older than your governments.

    • D.B; only Heaven knows, how many have lost their lives; as a result of FGM. Why should any one die in the name of culture/tradition? Give me a break! I beg to differ with with you.

      • The question is how many have died who have never gone through the female initiation rites? Second question is, would you have cared if these NGOs and their government supporters had not brought it up? People die under medical doctors supervision too, do you stop going to the hospital?. But that’s not even the point, the point is the systematic attack on African culture that still continues today and in this instance disguised as fighting for females right. These are the same people who destroyed Libya. Let them go there and save those African women being raped and sold into slavery. Can you to to America and demand that their men and women stop mutilating genitals by piercing them? Where women pierce their criticises. And demand that they stop mutilating their bodies with tattoos? How about you tell the West to criminalized homosexuality. But it’s okay for them to attack your culture and heritage. And finally, I’m not saying that female initiation rites or wrong or right, all I’m saying is that these NGOs and GoL should sensitivity in discussing the issues and involve those elders from those societies instead making demands and threatening to put people in jail.

        • D.B; the bucks stop with the females. Let them decide; what’s in their[OWN BEST] interests. You or I, will never know what FGM feels like. Thanks!

  2. Mr. Baffeh! You said it all right on this very sensitive topic that need total involvement discussion amoung tribes that maintained this culture as their way of life. The Poro and sande society was in existence in Liberia even before the settlers or free men of colours came to Liberia. This is nothing new to our indigenous Liberians which, the practised had becomes culture and heritage to the people of Liberia. Despite the Poro and sande societies is being practice amoung few tribal groups in Liberia, it is culture identity to many tribes because there are lessons taught within the Poro and sande societies in Liberia. These NGO’s comes to Liberia and here they are telling us that, our culture and heritage are bad but they are upholding theirs. It’s ok for 2 men to become husband & wife or it is ok for 2 ladies to become husband and wife, or it is ok for men to pierce their ears and noses, it is ok for females to pierce their clitoris with pleasure but it is not ok for us to maintained our Poro and sande societies because they say so. They will demonized everything we ever start as progress only because they want it to start with them. What is the difference between the FGM and piercing the clitoris of the female? This is again our culture and tribal ways of life in Liberia.
    Even the late William Tolbert went to the Poro society to gained his membership so this is how our heritage means more than anyone imagination and need some form of protection by our government from outsiders. Uhuru Kenyanta was once asked about the cultural way of life in Kenya regarding women that put big rings and ear rings through their noses in Kenya. He responded that, this is the people way of life in Kenya even before my father,Jomo Kenyanta was born and who am I to disrupt this tradition? I will protect it in every way I can because that’s Kenya tradition. We need leaders in Africa that will stand up to these type of nonsense from these NGO’s. We will never innovate anything if we don’t maintained our culture and traditional way of life despite the modern era. We need to hold on to our culture and keep on learning next man culture and this way, we will innovate and they will follow us. If we ever abandon our culture and follow them, we will always imitate them, meaning, we will never lead.
    I hope this young administration presently in power can protect the Poro and sande societies that is Liberia primary culture. J. Ark

    • J. Ark; the Poro Society is headed by a “DEVIL”. What good purpose is the DEVIL? I suppose you realize, the word EVIL, derives from the word “DEVIL”. I remember my earlier childhood in rural Liberia. Whenever the Poro Devil came to town at will, it was like torture for my sister and me. Our mother would force us under the bed and cover her-own face for as long as one hour or more at times. The Poro Devil’s entourage would blow their terrifying sounding 🎷 HORNS; to suppress any other sounds. Then, they would go about stealing town folks’ chickens, dogs, goats, sheeps… Is that right? Some Tradition/Culture! As for FGM, the graphics is at anyone’s finger tip. All you need is a smart phone. There, you have it-alI. I don’t believe, any female who have watched that gruesome procedure [FGM] would want to join Sande Society. I know females who are members of Sande Society. They’ve vowed, never to let their-own daughters become members. My father was a full member of Poro Society. Pappy never encouraged us, his sons to join Poro. There must be good reasons.

      • I was not aware that you were a spokesperson for the international community. I stand by my words, there is a conspiracy now, there has always been a conspiracy to deny the African his history and culture. I grew up in the village, and in my primary school years, I knew more about European history than I knew about Liberian history. I read Shakespeare plays, about Napoleon Bonaparte and Julius Caesar. I’m not sure how much you know about the history of slavery. But the first thing they took away from the captive Africans were their names. And then they were deny the opportunity to practice their cultures on the plantations and made it a crime. Sounds familiar? It’s easier to control anyone without history than it is to control one who does. When you have a chance, go to the streets of Monrovia and talk to the young men and women doing drugs, crime and prostitution. I guarantee a very high percentage of them weak or not family ties.
        When the Australian Aborigines were being exterminated, Europeans did not disseminate fliers to inform them of their impending doom. Same for the North American Indians, the Papua New Guineans, the original North Africans etc etc. The European brainwashing is so thorough that no European is needed to advance or defend power and imperialism, they have Negropeans and Africoons to do that job now.
        Black men are getting murdered in the streets of America by police on a daily basis. The U.S. and NATO has turned a once thriving Libya into a cesspool of anarchy and slavery where, are ready for this, African men and women are being sold into slavery. But somehow, you want to believe that the life of a poor Liberian girl is more worth is saving by these NGOs.
        I’m not sure how old you are, but before the war, how many Liberian women of child bearing age you knew that could not bear children? How many do you know now?
        Iraq was going to be a better place after Hussein, is it now? Same for Libya, Afghanistan and Syria. People like you would rather believe empty rhetoric even when 2000 years of history is punching in the face. But let’s go back to the female initiation rites (yes, I refuse to call it FGM, because the word ‘mutilation’ carries a callous intent, which is definitely not the case here, whether you agree with the practice or not), the fact that your pops did not encourage to join is evidence that is it not compulsory. Deaths now resulting from the practice, I have no doubt, but I can guarantee that those deaths are being exaggerated to serve their purpose. I also would attribute those deaths to the fact that perhaps, the war wiped out those elders who were experts at performing that procedure. Finally, if you read my initial post, you would have read that I said I oppose the practice, but I definitely find the insensitivity shown by the NGOs and the government they represent, to the subject very disturbing. By the way, people have died from piercing. I notice you said nothing about the culture of homosexuality that is prevalent in the countries where these NGOs are from. I understand too they pushing the homosexual agenda on African countries as well, what say you about that?

        • You are very much entitled to your opinions. So am I to mine. We must agree to disagree. I don’t intend to offend you or anyone else. I thank you for you views.

          • Actually, brother, the above response was not meant for you, it were meant for A.M. Peabody.

  3. Thanks brother, for the support and for reminding us about the culture practices of the West that are a complete anathema to our African culture. Which, by the way, they are also forcing on us to participate in. In the West and like you correctly pointed out, it’s okay for individuals to really mutilate their own bodies with piercings and tattoos. Where they pierce their tongues, penises and criticises. Some even bifurcate their tongues, to make them look like a snake or lizard.

  4. No, this is not a ploy by the Western world to show how barbaric Africans are. There are more African advocates and activists like myself who have been working diligently in and out of the diaspora to get female genital mutilation criminalized in practicing African countries, as well as countries around the world. Perhaps both Mr. Baffeh and Mr. Akoi have been in the dark about the worldwide campaign to end the practice of FGM by 2030, which the United Nations put forth a few years ago. This is no conspiracy by the Western world against Africans. Every day around the world, 8000 little girls are subjected to FGM, and many of them lose their lives to this archaic and heinous practice. How many people do you know have died from piercing their tongues? It is an insult to the countless girls who are survivors of FGM to compare tongue piercing to amputating the clitoris and labia. You should be ashamed to voice such an opinion. President Tolbert might have gone to the Poro Society, but I never heard of him endorsing the amputation of the clitoris and labia of little girls. If you need information and education on what is going on in the FGM world, please ask, and we will be happy to oblige. Thank you.

  5. Bros Peabody and Freeman, my goal in this brief discussion is not to undo, as far as Liberia is concern, nearly 200 years of western brainwashing and propaganda. Knowledge, like most things, is sweetest when it is achieved through self struggle and research. I don’t know if you guys are familiar with the timeless classic of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. If you haven’t, please take a look and if you already have, it might be worth revisiting. It is a work of fiction, of course, but I feel it is an appropriate primer on the topic under discussion. I’m old enough to have witnessed similar events in my village or worse as those faced by Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart. For works of nonfiction, I would strongly recommend Cheik Anta Diop, Ivan Van Sertima, Dr. John Clarke, Joseph BenJochannon, Francis Welsing and many more African historians past and present. I personally never cared about what people say, I watch what they do. We must view these people based what they do and not what they say. If the west was truly helping Africa and Africans, if their motives were indeed altruistic, Africa would be much better off than it is now. With that as a backdrop, I will leave you with words of Dr. John Henry Clarke, paraphrased, of course: everything the West does is to advance its interests and domination. Through its military, politics, religions and economic. If in that process, it saves an African life or make them wealthy, it’s incidental, not planned or its objective.

  6. Only Women are allow to discuss the Sandi Society.
    Again these Societies were there before Christianity and Islamic.
    Poro and Sandi are pre Pharoahnic and related. The Church didn’t say it was wrong? Who are those NGOs?

    • Our people still have a long way to go. Like I said earlier, Europeans themselves don’t have to fight to defend their domination anymore, they have the Negropeans and Africoons to do their job; the brainwash has been thorough.

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