Report shines light on secretive practice

From the archive.
On Saturday 17 May, a nine year old Sierra Leonean girl died from complications related to female genital mutilation (FGM). This case is unusual but only in that it was made public and reported. Despite being widespread in Sierra Leone, FGM is shrouded in secrecy and rarely openly discussed.

A new report by the research and campaigning charity 28 Too Many, led by CMS mission partner Ann-Marie Wilson (pictured), shines a light on this secretive practice.

Ann-Marie is sharing details of the report in meetings and discussions today at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict hosted by William Hague and Angelina Jolie. “While working on FGM in Sierra Leone we have also been struck by the impact of the recent civil war and the impact of the conflict,” she says.

The report shows that despite a slight fall in the prevalence rate of FGM in Sierra Leone from 2008 to 2013 the practice still affects approximately 89.6 per cent of women. The prevalence rate is as high as 94.3 per cent in rural areas, with the Northern Province having the highest rates.

FGM is a deeply engrained cultural practice in Sierra Leone and is closely linked to girls’ initiation into secret women’s societies (Bondo). Ninety per cent of women are members of Bondo and membership of these societies marks a girl’s transition to womanhood and enables her to take an active role in her community.

There is no law in Sierra Leone that specifically prohibits FGM and there are many challenges to the enforcement of national children’s rights laws or other legal instruments, especially the secrecy which often surrounds FGM and the political power of Bondo societies.

Despite these challenges there are some indicators of change and hope for the future, the report says.

Since the end of the civil war there has been a growing discourse on women’s rights, health and education.

There are a growing number of activists and NGOs working to end FGM and a range of programmes including alternative rites of passage initiatives which preserve the cultural significance of Bondo but without the harm of FGM such as that run by the Masanga Education Association.

Ann-Marie says, “FGM continues to affect the lives of most girls and women in Sierra Leone. There are also an estimated 100,000 Sierra Leoneans living in the UK, many in London, and many of the girls are at risk of being cut. Only last month a woman returning to the UK from Sierra Leone was arrested at Heathrow on suspicion of conspiracy to commit FGM and a 13-year-old Sierra Leonean girl taken into the care of social services.

“Our research shows that there is much to be done, as highlighted in the 12 recommendations in this report, but I am pleased to see an increase in work to end FGM and growing pressure for change.”

The full Sierra Leone country profile can be downloaded at http://www.28toomany.org/countries/sierra-leone/
Published 12 June 2014

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