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Can We Win This War Against FGM?
By Ahmed Mansaray, Country Coordinator, West Africa Democracy Radio (WADR)
Feb 12, 2009, 17:08
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On February 6th Sierra Leone joined the world over to commemorate the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

To mark this day, nationwide public awareness and discussion programs were held mainly over the radio, which is mostly listened to by many sierra Leoneans.

This sensitive issue raised however stepped on the toes of many traditionalists and believers of the traditions at practice of the bondo society and Female Genital Mutilation. Angers were expressed ranging from switching off radios to sending distasteful messages to radio producers of such programmes.

When February 6th was declared as the International Day of Zero tolerance for FGM at the International Conference on Zero Tolerance to FGM on February 6th 2003 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the common agenda for action against FGM adopted in that conference has as its goal to "eliminate FGM by the year 2010 in Africa and the rest of the world through an intensive, coordinated and integrated approach by all key players".

Though many have tried to act within this approach you may wonder how far many have swayed from it. Observations have revealed that many of the approaches taken by these people might be intensive and somewhat coordinated but it lacks integration especially of key players of the traditional practice.

How many people have tried using the soweis and digbas, secret society heads, to oppose the society? Some spent more of their time bashing the program at every podium instead of integrating those concern in the process. Others go as far as using small girls and mostly men to oppose a female society, which in itself is an affront and a confrontation to the society members and their initiates. Could this be the reason for the madness of the Kenema soweis and digbas in recent times?

If that was the case then it seem that these people will be annoyed on a yearly basis because come February 6 again the same thing will come up and the same war might appear. Something needs to be done to break the scourge, probably the integration of key society players in the struggle as the adoption of FGM in school curriculums seems to be speaking more to city youths and children of tomorrow.

How deep rooted is FGM in Sierra Leone might be the question many would ask and the right answer to that question is FGM is deeply rooted in the fabric of the Sierra Leone society and it is being practiced and held in high esteem even by people in the capital city Freetown. Sometimes you are considered not woman enough if you are not an initiate of the Bondo society. Can this war against FGM be won, especially in 2010? The answer for Sierra Leone seems to be a big no because FGM is performed in Sierra Leone as part of a rites of passage ceremony for girls into woman. The practice is mostly performed on children making it a child rights issue as well. For many people the practice has no benefit whatsoever on the victims and mostly satisfies other peoples desire to keep the female gender subservient.

Additionally the practice of FGM in Sierra Leone is prevalent and accepted and worst of it there are political undertones to the continuation of the practice. People of influence and power associate themselves with societal heads or practitioners who hold strong social positions in their communities and command respect, NGOs and child rights supporters have found it difficult to address FGM in Sierra Leone primarily for this reason.

Is there the political will at the center of Achieving Zero Tolerance to FGM? Political will means having laws in place and enforcing them. Sierra Leone is a signatory to numerous international treaties and conventions condemning physical torture, discrimination and harmful traditional practices. But our laws are silent on this FGM thing. One thing we are to know is that no amount of awareness raising sensitization will suffice to end the practice held so defensively by majority of the people, in the absence of laws prohibiting it.

Also though in Sierra Leone many organization like the US, through their embassy here in Freetown have supported activities to eliminate FGM around the world, including, teaching health care providers and practitioners about the long term implications of FGM and training practitioners so they may obtain alternate sources of income; but how effective has that been in a land of poverty where people pursue projects only for money to bail themselves out of the wrangling poverty wolfishly eating up the land.

In Kenema, soweis and digbas, society heads, went as far as breaking into the homes of four female journalists in Kenema that participated in a radio discussion program on FGM, dragged them naked to their sacred society bush. This has somewhat been regarded as the zenith of threat against journalists and free speech by these so called traditional fanatics.

Traditionalist who hold unto the FGM practice have been trying to convince non-believers of FGM that Bondo has a useful function in their society. They claim that the clitoris defiles a woman and makes her unfit to enter the kingdom of God and that taking it away spiritually cleanses the woman.. Additionally they claim that this act further delivers her from sexual promiscuity.

However scientific studies have proven that there is no correlation between sexual promiscuity and female circumcision. Sex is purely a function of the human mind and the abuse of it is has no connection with the presence of a certain organ in females.

Other religiously people claim that neither the Holy Bible nor the Holy Quoran has an edict calling for female circumcision. The Bible decreed only male circumcision as a covenant between man and God. God gave human beings the ability to control and suppress their sexual urges. In fact, it is an insult to the wise, good and omniscient God for human beings to seek to alter his creation. Every human part has a specific and important function and it is not within the rights of any human being to decree that a certain human organ is evil and should be excised.

In conclusion whatever philosophic, religious or academic advancement I might have made in this report, it still stands that FGM is widely practiced in Sierra Leone and the battle between believers and non-believers of FGM continue in different shades and form and the battle is likely to intensify especially where the government is keeping silent over the matter. If the battle is to be won, more people should be brought onboard or else the practice will continue unabated and our children will continue to suffer mutilation and their human right and dignity taken from them.

© Copyright by Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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