Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have been urged to take a clear position against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and work towards its abolition in Sierra Leone.
This call was made in the CEDAW “Shadow Report Coalition in Sierra Leone”, presented to the United Nations in New York urging governments to address these concerns.
The national organizations in explaining the rationale, shared their deep sense of frustration at the continuance of this practice and the complete lack of political will on the part of the state to intervene to end it.
They stated that at present almost 95% of women in Sierra Leone were violated through this practice.
A release from the organisations states that, “in fact the age at which girls are violated with this procedure has been steadily going down in recent years. Today, it is common for girls as young as three to have undergone FGM, mostly in the bushes, with blunt instruments, causing excruciating pain and with no consideration for hygiene and safety”.
The NGOs clearly stated that they recognized FGM as a human rights violation, constituting torture against women and sought its abolition at the earliest, while it highlighted some strategies to curtail the practice in its current form.
They stressed that they would welcome recommendations from the committee that would obligate the state to ban such inhumane practices immediately and provide the NGOs with tools to seek state compliance with the norms of the CEDAW Convention nationally.
CEDAW, which is made up of 36 NGOs, further called on the world to turn its attention to the massive suffering created by the nation’s discriminatory legal system and the massive death toll caused by a health care infrastructure that is in shambles.
It also lamented that the customary laws in Sierra Leone deny women the right to inherit property and the right to divorce, noting that the criminal justice system does not provide adequate protection from gender based violence.
The constitution incorporates discriminatory customary laws while the levels of maternal and infant mortality are currently the highest in the world, where one woman in six dies as a result of pregnancy.
This is due to the grossly inadequate facilities and untrained personnel, CEDAW lamented.On gender inequality in health care it stated that it was significant and pervasive as women in Sierra Leone had unequal access to basic health services and unequal opportunities for the protection, promotion and maintenance of health.
Sierra Leone has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world at 2000 per 100,000 live births. The chances of a woman in Sierra Leone suffering maternal death are one in six.
Health care services in Sierra Leone particularly outside the capital are woefully inadequate especially reproductive health care, the report noted while unsafe abortion and Female Genital Mutilation are critical areas that contribute to major reproductive health complications in Sierra Leone.
The NGOs emphasised that health clinics were understaffed; personnel under-trained and more often than not many clinics did not have the relevant medical supplies or equipment.
Also cause for concern for the NGOs are that salaries of skilled and trained health personnel are very low with poor working conditions as access to health care services is minimal due to high rate of poverty particularly in the rural areas.
These problems are further compounded by massive corruption in Sierra Leone, they emphasised, indicating that a 2004 government survey revealed that 1.7 billion Leones worth of essential medicines left the central government to district hospitals, but only 96 million Leones worth of drugs were actually reportedly received at the district level.
This means 94.3% of the drugs simply disappeared without explanation, they stressed