As Sierra Leone joins the world all over to commemorate the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) on February 6th, Plan Sierra Leone was proud to join the National Movement for Emancipation and Progress (NaMEP) to mark this day.
In a statement by Grace Herman from PLAN-SL, she said that, 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.
She added that, 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”.
“FGM is performed in Sierra Leone as part of a rites of passage ceremony for girls into woman”, Herman said on Friday at the Miattia conference hall.
The practice, she said, is mostly performed on children making it a child rights issue as well, adding that the practice has no benefit whatsoever on the victims and mostly satisfies other people’s desire to keep the female gender subservient.
“The health, personal security and privacy, physical integrity and the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death are violated”, she said.
Herman maintained that the practice of FGM in Sierra Leone is prevalent and accepted that 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, stressing that NGOs and child rights supporters have found it difficult to address FGM in Sierra Leone primarily for this reason.
Speaking on the theme “Political will at the center of Achieving Zero Tolerance to FGM,” she said that, this recognizes 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.
Political will, she said means having laws in place and enforcing them, noting that Sierra Leone is a signatory to numerous international treaties and conventions condemning physical torture, discrimination and harmful traditional practices.
A statement from CARE Sierra Leone who also partners with NaMEP states that, FGM is associated with many detrimental health and social consequences that persist throughout a woman’s life. The statements continued that CARE seeks a society where hope, tolerance, and social justice prevail, poverty vanquished and people live in peace with dignity. Therefore, CARE respects and values the dignity and rights of all people regardless of gender, age, religion, class, physical ability, nationality and sexual orientation, which cannot be violated in the name of tradition.
Lindsay Kennedy from the US embassy said that, FGM is a harmful procedure that threatens the health and human rights of women and hinders their development. She noted that US has supported activities to eliminate FGM around the world, including Sierra Leone, teaching health care providers and practitioners about the long term implications of FGM and training practitioners so they may obtain alternate sources of income.
The US Embassy, Kennedy said implores the people to put the health of women and children ahead of preserving harmful traditional practices. Gender Officer at the Human Rights Commission, Gloria Bayoh urges government and Parliament to take necessary actions to ensure that recent legislation addressing this issue is fully implemented and that further initiatives are embarked upon so that Sierra Leone complies with its international obligations, particularly under CEDAW and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). UNICEF Child Protection officer Rosina Conteh said that, “the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that about 120 million African women and girls have been subjected to FGM”.UNICEF has a clear position on FGM she said “it is a human rights violation, and as such a harmful traditional practice and therefore supports efforts to end the practice.” Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs said that, as a Ministry they strongly applaud the initiatives to stop FGM, but added that his Ministry will also want to advice that we adopt some caution and intensify public education campaigns to draw attention to the practice.
The celebration started with a procession from the Victoria Park to the Miatta conference hall.