Secret societies implicated as Liberia passes domestic violence bill without FGM ban

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in New York City in 2015, where she said her government was committed to an FGM ban. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Women’s rights activists have condemned the Liberian parliament for taking a ban on female genital mutilation (FGM) out of a new domestic violence law. When the law was first submitted to lawmakers last September, it listed FGM as a criminal offense, along with threats and acts of physical and sexual violence, and emotional abuse. Opposition from several politicians in April led to the FGM provision being removed from the bill, which passed into law last week — in a country in which half the women have reportedly been cut.

“It’s extremely frustrating that the domestic violence bill was due to include an FGM ban, then a weaker ban and now no ban at all,” Mary Wandia of rights group Equality Now told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “This is seemingly due to resistance by secret societies, but there is no excuse for continuing to fail Liberian girls.”

The practice takes place in the West African nation during traditional initiation ceremonies in bush schools, overseen by a powerful women’s secret society called the Sande, that has enormous political clout. It is thought that the provision may have been removed from the bill for fear by some politicians they would lose support from more traditional communities.

Only last year, Liberia’s president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said her government was committed to introducing a legal ban on FGM.

Read the full story at The Thomson Reuters Foundation.


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