By Matalay Kollie, Bong County Correspondent
GBAOTA, Bong County-It was another moment for traditional Zoes in Gbaota, in Bong when they officially turned over all materials related to the practices of “Female Genital Mutilation” (FGM) in Bush Schools.
The Zoes in Bong turned their materials over to the National Traditional Council of Chiefs and Elders (NACCEL).
The action of the Bong Countt Zoes symbolizes the ban of FGM activities in Bush Schools across the county. The ceremony took effect Friday, October 20, 2023, in Gbaota, Bong County.
It can be recalled on 6, February 2023 in Songay Town, officials of the National Council of Chiefs and Elders of Liberia in Collaboration with the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection and the Ministry of Internal Affairs affixed their signatures to a document to end the harmful practice of FGM in Bush Schools in two counties. FGM is practiced in 11 of the 15 counties in Liberia. Advocacy for the Ban on FGM has grown from international conventions and treaties including the Maputo protocol which calls call an end to FGM in order to protect women and girls against harmful practices.
The Ban of the FGM Practice in Liberia was again over the weekend in Bong County generally agreed upon by traditional leaders and female zoes from the Eleven Mandi Man Counties of Liberia.
Over many decades, indigenous from eleven of Liberia’s fifteen counties have been involved with the practice of Female Genital Mutilation in the Sandi Society.
The act, according to International Human Rights organizations is totally against the rights of those being affected.
From that backdrop, over the weekend, traditional leaders of the eleven counties including female zoes gathered at the traditional site in the town and unanimously turned over traditional tools used for FGM practices to the National Council of Chiefs and Elders of Liberia (NCCEL).
The presentation of the FGM tools was done by Bong County Superintendent Esther Walker on behalf of the eleven Mandi Man Counties.
Speaking on behalf of the traditional leaders and female zoes from the eleven counties, Supt. Walker called on the National Council of Chiefs and Elders of Liberia and its Swedish and United Nations Women counterparts to support the women as they disengaged from their way of life.
According to her, the practice of Sandi Society has long served as a means of survival for traditional female zoes in their respective areas, as such; there is a need for Heritage Centers to be built in the eleven counties to enable the traditionally disarmed female zoes to get involved with other cultural activities that will better their lives.
The traditionally disarmed female zoes, through the Bong County Superintendent further called for the establishment of a large-scale Agricultural Center across those eleven counties for the women to also get involved with Agricultural activities.
According to them, if a “Heritage Center” is built for the traditionally disarmed zoes across the eleven counties, it will enable them to engage in other cultural activities like Tailoring, Soap Making, and Tie-dye amongst others.
However, receiving the Traditional Tools on behalf of the National Council of Chiefs and Elders of Liberia, the Vice Chair for Cultural and Traditional Affairs at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Trokon Jonathan Seah lauded the women for taking the brave step to disengage from FGM practices in Liberia.
Chief Seah, on behalf of NACCEL headed by Chief Zanzan Kawor also presented an envelope of an undisclosed amount of money to the women as an appreciation for accepting to end FGM practice in the County.
He at the same time pledged the Council’s commitment to working with UN Women and the government of Sweden to support the women in their respective countries.
Speaking earlier at the FGM ban ceremony, Liberia’s Cultural Ambassador Juli Endee encouraged the women to stand by their decision by not reverting to FGM practice in their areas.
According to Amb Endee, a document was previously signed and approved in Songay Town, Mountserrado County by traditional leaders in the eleven Mandi man Counties to eliminate FGM practice in Liberia.
Madam Endee further cautioned the traditional women not to pay heed to what people will say about their decision, adding that a truthful and trustworthy individual must stand by his or her decision if he or she must be respected in Society.
She added that even though Bush School activities will continue in those eleven counties, the portion that has to do with “Female Genital Mutilation” (FGM) is banned across the country.
The eleven Mandi Man Counties include Gbapolu, Grand Cape Mount, Bomi, and Montserrado counties.
Others are Grand Bassa, Rivercess, Margibi, Grand Gedeh, Nimba, Lofa and Bong Counties.
For their part, the UN Women Representative and Swedish Ambassador to Liberia, Ms. Comfort Lamptey and Urban Sjostrom lauded the decision of the Traditional Council of the Eleven Counties and National Council of Chief and Elders of Liberia to end FGM.
The UN Women and Swedish envoys further pledged their separate organizations’ commitment to building a Heritage Center in the eleven counties including Gbaota, Bong County for the disarmed traditional women to engage in other cultural activities that will greatly impact their lives.
They said, banning FGM in the country will not only benefit the 11 counties, but Liberia at-large.