Currently in Sierra Leone the prevalence of female genital mutilation (FGM) among women and girls is 70 percent which affects more than 2 million women nationwide, according to Amnesty International.
The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, which recently addressed the issue, said the practice was still legal but had a plan to help curb it.
“The government is not against getting rid of traditional harmful practices. What we are saying is let us engage our people and let them understand the issues,” said Memunatu Koroma, the deputy minister.
According to her, “the government is looking to establish an age of consent for FGM and educate and sensitize the greater community. FGM is deep rooted,”
“No matter what you do to pass a law to abolish it, it will continue,” Ms. Koroma said.
Although FGM has been banned in countries like Ghana and Egypt the practice has yet to vanish from these countries.
Although FGM is a deep-rooted practice that plays an intricate role in the Bondo society, Rodney Lowa from Amnesty International in Freetown feels that it’s not a cultural right.
“There is no physical or medical argument for taking off a woman’s clitoris,” he said. “The Bondo society, from Amnesty International’s view, we have nothing against. But what we do object to is harmful cultural practices.”
According to a World Health Organization, rates of caesarean section, postpartum hemorrhage, extended maternal hospital stay and still birth among women is significantly greater among FGM initiates. Long-term health consequences include cysts, damage to the urethra, painful sexual intercourse and sexual dysfunctions. HIV transmission is also possible due to the use of a single instrument for multiple operations.
All ethnic groups in Sierra Leone practice FGM with the exception of Christian Krios.
“We have a lot of avenues to explore to educate the stakeholders,” Ms. Koroma said. “What you have to do is educate the stakeholders, having consultations with the paramount chiefs, with the Bondo leaders, with the husbands and the families. Because something like this you cannot do away with in a day.”
“It’s an ongoing campaign and it’s not going to change overnight,” said Lowa. “It may take two, three or four generations.”
And if the administration changes through the course of the election, Koroma said, “the struggle for sensitization will continue”
By Mike Carter