By: Oretha Bundoo
Grand CapeMount-August 4, 2023: It was a scene of jubilation on August 4, 2023, in Tenii District, Grand Cape Mount County when the Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Gender with support from UN-WOMEN and partners closed the second sandy bush school in the country.
It can be recalled on February 6 of this year a landmark proclamation to ban female genital mutilation (FGM) in Montserrado County, a harmful traditional practice that involves the removal or injury of external female genital organs for non-medical reasons was made by the chairperson of the national council of chiefs and elders of Liberia (NACCEL), Chief Zanzan Karwor.
Chief Karwor pronounced the ban on FGM during the commemoration of the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, a day set aside by the United Nations to amplify and direct efforts towards the elimination of the FGM practice.
The event was held at the vocational and heritage centre constructed by UN-Women with funding from the European Union and the United Nation Spotlight Initiative in Sonkay Town, Todee District, Montserrado County.
In January 2023, traditional leaders in Montserrado county participated in a traditional ceremony where all FGM practitioners in the county put down their tools and returned the permit they were issued by the Government of Liberia to practice FGM in the Country.
According to Chief Karwor, similar ritual will be performed in the other 10 FGM practicing counties, to ensure that FGM is completely eliminated in the whole country.
In fulfilment of the commitment on February 6 2023 in Sonkay Town, Montserrado county, the National Council of Chiefs and Elders of Liberia (NACCEL) in collaboration with the ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection and the Liberia crusaders for Peace conducted a traditional ceremony marking the closure of the sandy bush school in Grand Cape Mount County, Tenii district on Thursday and Friday August 3rd and 4th 2023.
It took eleven (11) consecutive days for the process of banning FGM to be completed in the Tenii,Grand Cape Mount County.
Speaking at the traditional ceremony, Liberia Peace Ambassador Julie Endee said the bush school is not closing in totality but the aspect of the mutilation is what they are trying to eliminate, so the practice will continue with lots of different programs that will impact the lives of women and girls in the county.
The Government of Liberia through UN-WOMEN built different structures where women and girls will learn tailoring, soap making, tie and die among others to enable them raised money in other to have a better life in the absent of the bush school or sandy society.
The National Chairman of Council of Chiefs and Elders, Zanzan Karwor reminded the gathering that what happened is the performance of the traditional rites to ensure a full closure of the practice in the county and Liberia traditional culture will continue to be preserved without the practice of FGM in the Country.
The bush schools in Grand Cape Mount county have been officially closed with the approval of the Chief of the Council of Elders Liberia, Chief Zanzan Karwar.
However, speaking on behalf UN-WOMEN, Yawo Maglo Operational manager extended sincere thanks and appreciation to the Government of Liberia and the National Council of Chiefs and Elders of Liberia for their continued efforts in protecting women and girls of Liberia from violence and harmful practices.
Maglo also thanked Chief Zanzan karwor, according to him, who has demonstrated true leadership in the process for abolishing FGM.
He further thanked the local county authorities, traditional leaders and zoes of Grand cape Mount county for accepting the call to transform one of Liberia old age practice which was not only preventing Liberian women and girls to live a life free from all form of violence, but also was holding back Liberia from achieving the international commitments signed to protect women and girls from any harm and violence of their human rights.
He emphasized that UN-Women and the UN System respect traditional and culture values, practices that affect the health and life of women and girls that need to be abolished and the rights of women and girls protected. “This why, UN-Women is working closely with traditional leaders to ensure that alternative economic livelihood opportunities are available under the ongoing EU-funded Spotlight initiative. Grand Cape Mount County is now in the annual history as Liberia’s second county that has embraced the elimination of Female genital Mutilation (FGM) from their culture. Let us work together in ensuring the fulfilment of the dreams of all women and girls as it relate to their body autonomy-their right to make decisions about their own body without violence or coercion”.
Meanwhile, the Deputy Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection (MoGCSP) Alice Johnson Howard reaffirmed the Ministry’s committed in working with the Council of Chiefs and Elders, UN-Women, the EU and Swedish to ensure that FGM is eliminated from Liberia’s Bush Schools completely.
At the same time the Zoes and elders of Grand cape Mount County said even though the closing of the bush school was difficult but with immense benefit and impact for women and girls was necessary.
The ban is expected to take place in eleven counties in Liberia that are carrying on said practiced and the ritual ceremony has taken placed in two counties, which is Montserrado and Grand cape Mount.
Over the next few weeks the ban will take place in Nimba, Lofa and Bong counties follow by other counties.