August 25th 2016: I have read media reports of a press conference held on August 24th by the Forum Against Harmful Practices (FAHP) in which I am accused of refusing to give the green light to implement a so-called "National Strategy" against female circumcision which is also dubbed as FGM. Notable is that female circumcision is practised by Bondo Women who make up the vast majority of our female populace in Sierra Leone. My position on underaged and forceful female circumcision is known by everyone go cares in this country. At any major platform I have, I express my disdain for initiating people against their will as well as initiating girls.
Now, let me upfront state that FAHP has never expressed their concerns to me prior to that press conference.
I have been directly contacted by UN Agencies on the so-called national strategy against FGM and I have expressed the concerns of the vast majority of Sierra Leone women to them. As a result, both UNICEF and UNFPA are currently working with my senior ministry staff in widening the consultations to include more rural women. This has been ongoing for the past four weeks now. We are on track to ensure rural women and traditional women take the lead on implementing whatever we are going to implement. My vision is for the Soweis and active practitioners of female circumcision to believe in whatever national strategy my ministry develops so that they can be the ones driving the implementation. Anything other than that, is a waste of energy.
I am now challenging the FAHP to produce any evidence of them ever expressing concern to me (in writing or otherwise) over the so called "national" FGM strategy. I challenge them to indicate if prior to their press conference on Wednesday, they ever told me they are unhappy with me. They have never done so! Never. Many concerned women have told me that they believe the FAHP ongoing scheme is just dirty politics being played and they have urged me not to be distracted. I will not be distracted but let me just highlight a few points.
The so called "national" FGM strategy document I was given upon taking office, indicates hundreds of thousands of dollars is to be granted to FAHP and Cohorts but let these organizations keep in mind that we cannot sacrifice respect for views of majority of our women on the altar of hundreds of thousands of dollars they seek to be granted. Every stakeholder should feel a part and parcel of any national strategy or else, it is not a national strategy but a parochial one. I repeat, Every stakeholder should feel a part and parcel of any national strategy or else, it is not a national strategy but a parochial one.
I inherited a draft strategy that has already received serious criticisms from a huge swathe of Sierra Leone women who say they were not consulted in its development. I have several communication from many women's groups around Sierra Leone asking me to put a hold on implementing the strategy until they are fully involved in its development. These represent the vast majority of Sierra Leone women.
Meanwhile, I have never, I repeat, NEVER, received any communication from the so called FAHP expressing concern over me allegedly failing to act on the strategy. The first time I heard of their supposed displeasure with me was from their press conference they held on Wednesday.
To my mind, their entire press conference and media antics are borne of some political posturing. It appears to be just dirty politics clouded in advocacy. Infact, Points-Scoring supersedes Children's Rights as far as FAHP recent activities go. I seriously ponder on whether FAHP really cares about children?
If they care for children, then why was FAHP so insensitive as to post unedited photos of little girls who are victims and worse of all, go on to identify these little vulnerable children by their names and even heartlessly and callously list the name and class of the specific school that one of the victims is attending in Freetown? Identifying those victims like that and posting their faces on social media, is just criminal on many fronts.
My deputy minister Madam Neneh Turay used to be the chair of the FAHP until even after she was named as deputy minister. She only gave up as the substantive chair few weeks back. Now just recently, she has been engaged in frontal gross insubordination towards my authority as her immediate boss to an extent of going on social media to publicly counter my expressed positions - which are positions I inherited as launched in our government's National Agenda For Prosperity.
She is unapologetic in publicly countering me.
So, therefore I see the FAHP press conference as a mere extension of her allies continuing to try to disrespect my leadership and distract my attention. Otherwise, why did the FAHP not first try to specifically draw my attention to their concerns over the status of the strategy with me? Did they ever write to me expressing displeasure over their perceived delay on my part? No, Never! The timing of their attack on me, is all suspect but I will not be distracted.
I am in this seat to represent the interests of all the women of Sierra Leone. And I mean *ALL* women. Not just the Freetown elite or intellectuals or the collectors of hundreds of thousands of dollars but all the women including the rural and illiterate women whom I have to show the greatest possible respect and be especially sensitive in how I handle issues concerning long held beliefs of theirs.
If the vast majority of Sierra Leone women are in the rural areas, my leadership of the Gender Sector is going to be tailored to ensure their interests are well captured in any national strategy on FGM. I have to ensure they can trust me and my leadership of that critical ministry.
And so far, they are extremely happy with my leadership of the Ministry. I give God the glory.
Yes, I will also seek the interest of the minority women in the big towns who are receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from Western interest groups. Yes, I will listen to them as well and I will also seek their interests but all such various interests will be carefully balanced by me. I am the Leader in the Gender sector. I am the Minister. I have to seek everyone's interests.
I will meanwhile be extending an Invitation to FAHP for them to meet me some time early next month. The exact date will be communicated to them by my Diary keeper. It is my hope that our meeting in September, might bring about a better mutual understanding. Until then, I am well focused on what is of more importance to me including the protection and best interests of the vulnerable girls of Sierra Leone. I refuse to be distracted.
Finally, and this is EXTREMELY important. Much has been said by unscrupulous persons about a 19 years old who died a few days after she was circumcised of her own volition. I went up to Makeni in Northern Province so as to witness the autopsy / postmortem conducted on her. I am a trained and qualified medical doctor and I have witnessed several post mortem examinations. According to Government Chief Pathologist Dr. Simeon Owizz Koroma who conducted the postmortem in my personal presence alongside the presence of civil and traditional authorities, the 19 years old Fatmata Mustapha Turay, primarily died of bilateral lobar pneumonia (her two lungs were badly affected) and she also had extensive other pathologies & conditions throughout her internal organs in her chest cavity, her abdominal cavity and her pelvic cavity. It is the decision of her family members not to publicise what other conditions were found by Dr. Owizz Koroma in her chest, abdomen and pelvis. I respect that. I respect the family's right to their privacy as well as respect for the late lady's memory. FAHP and other interested parties can contact the family for more information if they so desire. The Police have since released the Soweis and the Nursing Sister with apologies from the Police. The case has been closed by the Police as they found no crime was committed. I believe the late young lady should now be allowed to rest in peace. Her death has been abused and mis-used too much now by those who are overzealous to score cheap points. Please let her soul now rest in peace.
May the Almighty continue to guide us all.
By Hon. Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden (Cabinet Minister in charge of Sierra Leone's Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Issues)
Thursday August 25th 2016.
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Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.