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Sierra Leone News: No time to waste… Zero tolerance for FGM

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is associated with misconceived cultural ideals, which include removing body parts considered unfeminine. It is often seen as a way to increase a girl’s chances of marriage. It is also considered a harmful traditional practice. Today, 6 February, is the international day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, which is a global campaign to stop genital mutilation to girls and women. 25-year old Nancy Kabba said she underwent FGM in her motherland, Kabala District, because her mother believed she could not marry honourably without the removal of parts of her body considered unfeminine. “I still cannot forget how joyful I was when my mother told that I will spend my vacation in Kabala with my grandmother, whom I loved so much. My excitement suddenly turned into a nightmare exactly three days during my visit when I found myself amidst a crowd of women who were chanting a language that I could not understand,” Kabba said. Kabba said, “I can still recall how some elderly women robbed me of my bodily integrity…  that day I will never forget.” “I knew almost everything that is done during bondo before I consented to have undergone bondo at age 19. I came from was the bondo society, which is seen as requisite to demonstrate womanhood and a sense of belonging,” said Salamatu Turay. Turay noted how proud and honoured a woman or girl could be feeling after the initiation into the bondo society in her society and ethnicity. She added, “I didn’t feel anything bad about it as it was the way of life for generations, which I cannot fail to follow.” According to a Thomson Reuters and 28TooMany Report, 125 million women and girls alive today in Africa have experienced FGM, and 30 million more girls will be affected by 2022 – one girl being cut every ten seconds. While FGM is practised primarily in 28 African countries, clustered from West Africa to Egypt and the Horn, it is also seen in parts of the Middle East, Asia and across the world in diaspora groups who bring their traditions with them upon migration. “FGM is known to have no health benefits and has serious, immediate and long-term physical and psychological health consequences, which can be severe, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and reduced sexual desire or satisfaction,” the report stated. Babies born to women who have experienced FGM, the report said, suffer higher rates of neonatal death, and mothers can experience obstetric complications and fistulae. Globally, reasons for FGM are highly varied between ethnic groups and communities; it is a deeply embedded social practice associated with adulthood, marriageability, purity and sexual control. In Sierra Leone, where it is also linked to the ordering of community power structures through membership to secret societies for which FGM is the badge of belonging. It is also linked to early child marriage and girls dropping out of school. At the end of the civil war, Bondo initiation was used as a way of restoring social relations lost in the destruction. It also presented itself in a war-torn economy as an economic opportunity for younger women, a rarity in Sierra Leone. Traditionally, FGM is carried out by older women in unhygienic conditions in isolated bush camps. Sierra Leone’s country profile shows that there has been a slight reduction in the overall prevalence of FGM in Sierra Leone from 91.3% in 2008 to 89.6% in 2013, according to the Demographic and Health Surveys. Prevalence is 94.3% in rural areas, and the districts in the Northern Province have the highest prevalence, although prevalence is 75% or higher in all districts across the country. In Sierra Leone there is no national anti-FGM movement but advocacy efforts to end FGM resulted in the government issuing a ban on the practice. There have been no trials for FGM and certainly no convictions. In Britain, a Ugandan woman was recently convicted of practicing FGM. Her Ghanain husband was acquitted. While legislation and enforcement provide a solid basis for tackling the problem, additional measures are needed to encourage communities to abandon the practice, the report said. Clearly, there is still a very long way to go: between now and 2030, the UNFPA estimates that 68 million girls around the world – not only in Africa, but also in Asia, Europe and the Americas – may be subjected to female genital mutilation, robbing them of their bodily integrity and violating their human rights. There is no time to waste.


By Sylvia Villa

Wednesday February 06, 2019.


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