Concord Times Newspaper is one of the oldest and credible local print media newsroom in Sierra Leone. Concord Times published in its February 19, 2014 publication contained an article written by Journalist: Mohamed Massaquoi stated that Sierra Leone: Northern Region Tops FGM Activities – 2013 Demographic Health Survey (DHS) Reveals. This article was also published on All Africa Online Newspapers.
The article stated that the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), (2013) conducted by Statistics Sierra Leone in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation puts the northern region of Sierra Leone at the top of FGM activities in the country. Retrieved from: http://allafrica.com/stories/201402191575.html
According to the World Health Organization, female genital mutilation (FGM), sometimes called female genital cutting (FGM/C) or female circumcision, is the cutting or removal of all, or a portion of the female genitals for cultural (not medical) reasons. There are different ways it is practiced according to the location or culture in which it is being done.
Despite the fact that Sierra Leone is a signatory to the 1988 Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and many other international Human Rights instruments, there is still high prevalence of FGM/C and its related consequences on the health and wellbeing of women.
In sierra Leone, FGM/C “Bondo Society” is wide spread regarded as a rite of passage for women into womanhood. Apart from the Creoles in the Western Area, all other ethnic groups engage in the practice. This is inherent in a set of valuable cultural and traditional practice that nurtures purity and equip women with effective home management skills relevant for society at the time. In the 19th century, FGM/C Bondo Society was a form of non-formal school conducted for matured females who are prime for marriage and lasted between one to thee months. This tradition was practiced mostly during the dry season after harvest; when there is plenty food and less work. Most women that were initiated to this society were already either traditionally engaged or betrothed to their future husband. Women move straight into their husband’s homes after the completion of the Bondo Society initiation ceremony. As a result of this, Bondo calls for all initiates to be virgins; clearly putting a stop to promiscuity before initiation. It is abominable, according to Bondo precepts, for a girl not to be found a virgin when going through the process. Being found a virgin during this process brings respect and honor to both the women and their families in the society. Today, FGM/C has been generally used to define who ‘a real Sierra Leonean woman is’. In some female gatherings and communities, women who are not initiated are stigmatized, discriminated against. They are seen as outcasts or ‘unclean and referred to as incomplete women.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) serves as the premise for other forms of Gender Based Violence and child abuse in the country regardless of the huge investment and interventions carried out to curb this deadly practice. Types I and II FGM/C is reported to be predominantly practices in the country. According to the DHS, (2013), report, 75% had some flesh cut and removed, 9% were sewn closed, and less than 1% was cut without any skin removal. More women in rural areas (94%) had been circumcised than in urban areas (81%). The results also show that FGM was highest in the Northern Region with 96% and lowest in the Western Region with 76%. The report added that circumcision was more prevalent among older women as 98% as of women aged 45-49 as compared to 74% of women aged 15-19 years. UNICEF, (2011), stated that FGM/C was 88% in 2010 but there has evidence that the practice was slowly diminishing, with 70% of women aged 15-19 being cut, compared to 96% of those aged 45-49 years. FGC was slightly less practiced on women with higher education, in wealthier homes and in urban areas. Only 22% of the women surveyed wished the practice to be discontinued compared to 72% who wanted it to continue.
DHS, (2013), reported that one of the main reasons why the Bondo secret society heads are so stubbornly opposed to the elimination of FGM, is that they regard this practice as their only source of livelihood. “I am part of it because I am making money out of it. We don’t have alternative means of livelihood, so we depend on initiation fees being paid by parents for their children to be initiated. We also benefit from gifts being brought to the ‘Bondo bush’ for us the initiators,” said one of teh Digba/Sowei’s Bondo is now a kind of a cliché that carry so much fuss and “August meeting effect”. Nonetheless, parents especially mothers continue to go all out to make sure that their children go through the school before they reach 18 thereby continually unleashing suffering on them.
The World Health Organization (WHO), FGM/C has both short and long term effects on women and girls. Some of the harm and known physical complications caused by the removal of, and or damage to, healthy, normal female genital tissue in the short term include severe pain, shock, excessive bleeding (Haemorrhage), difficulty in passing urine, tetanus or sepsis, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue and infections. In the long term, all types of FGM, particularly infibulation have been found to be associated with reproductive health morbidities, increased risk of childbirth complications, cyst, infertility, and cervical cancer. Sierra Leone’s high rates of teenage pregnancy and school drop-out are also linked to Bondo Societies, as once initiated many girls are considered ready for marriage.The effects of the practices are sufficient grounds for the legislation of the practice. However, the government does not have a clear policy on FGM/C and there are no laws explicitly banning the practice. Politicians in Sierra Leone do not think issues such as FGM/C need to be talked about, because they use FGM as a way of getting the votes of women, (African Development Bank, 2010).
Evidence in the video below is enough justification for legislating FGM/C in Sierra Leone. Disclaimer – This video is graphic; do not watch if you are not psych-emotionally strong!
All stakeholders, International Non Governmental Organisations, United Nations Organizations including local organizations and stakeholders and hugely invested to curb teh practice yet, the Sierra Leone government is yet to commit itself to proscribing the practice despite being part of so many international conferences seeking support for FGM to be banned.
Legislate against FGM/C and Save Sierra Leone Women and Girls!
African Development Bank (2010), Joint Donor Gender Assessment Report: DFID Sierra Leone ols. 1 and 11,
Gender-Based Violence in Sierra Leone, (2008),: A National Research
UNICEF, 2011), Children’s Situational Analysis: Sierra Leone
UNICEF, (2013), Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: a statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change
Sierra Leone Demographic Health Survey, (2013),.
WHO Press, World Health Organisation, (2012), Geneva, Switzerland: Retrieved from: http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/fgm/9789241596442/en/index.html.