Fighting tradition

Liberian legislators drop provision that would have banned FGM

Liberia's President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

Despite already having served two terms as president of Liberia, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa’s first female head of state, is still fighting to make inroads against the widespread practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) in her country. Following bans last year in Nigeria and The Gambia, Liberia remains one of only three countries in west Africa that has yet to ban the practice.

A domestic violence bill that included, for the first time, a ban on FGM was introduced recently in Liberia. It was criticized as a weak ban, full of loopholes — until this week, when legislators opted to delete the FGM provision entirely. The bill could pass on Thursday, with no mention of FGM.

In Sierra Leone and Liberia, the Sande female secret society carries out FGM as part of a rite initiating girls into womanhood. It is forbidden to talk about such secret societies and their practices with non-initiated people, and violators face extreme repercussions. Women such as Ruth Berry Peal from Northern Liberia, and others, have been forced to undergo FGM as punishment for speaking out against the practice. Even journalists, such as Mae Azango, have been driven into hiding for writing about the issue.

Without legislation, Liberia has still managed to significantly reduce FGM prevalence in the country — from 85 percent for middle-aged women, to 44 percent for girls aged 15 to 19.

Read the full story at The Guardian.


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