Lofa County Adheres To Ban On FGM, Traditional Council Spokesperson Ma-Watta Kamara Discloses

By Victory Wesseh, +231 77 814 7938; FeJAL Mentorship Fellow

Vasala, Lofa County: The ban placed on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) by the government of Liberia through the Ministry of Internal Affairs in collaboration with the National Traditional Council of Liberia is reportedly being adhere to in vasala town and other places in Lofa County.

Lofa is one of the counties in Liberia noted for practicing Bush School where FGM is practiced. Female Genital Mutilation also known as female genital cutting, or female circumcision is a harmful practice that involves the partial removal of external female private parts. It is usually performed on girls and women often time without their consent and can have serious physical and psychological consequences.

FGM harms girls and women in many ways and has no health benefits. It damages and removes healthy and normal female genital tissue and interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies. FGM has health complications and increased risk with greater severe forms. The practice is found in parts of Africa, Asia, the Middle East and in their respective diasporas.

According to WHO, more than 200 million girls and women who are alive today have undergone FGM in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is practiced. FGM is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15 and it is in violation of the human rights of girls and women.

Treatment for FGM health complications is estimated at US$ 1.4 billion per year according to WHO, a number expected to rise if urgent action is not taken to abandon FGM. However, in recent years, the practice has been a topic of concern to Liberia and its partners. In 2018 former Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf signed an executive order to ban the practice for girls under 18 years.
This was followed by another year ban imposed 2019 by traditional leaders who signed the Ganta Declaration, a seven Count Policy Statement for the temporary suspension of zoes activities in Liberia. On February 6, 2024, Liberia joined the global community to observe the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), under the theme: ‘Her voice. Her future. Investing in Survivor-Led Movements to End Female Genital Mutilation.’

The theme calls for increasing survivors’ space for voicing out against the practice to protect girls at risk of being subjected to FGM. The National Council of Chiefs and Elders of Liberia (NACCEL) made a historic proclamation to ban the practice of FGM in Liberia. Since then, traditional ceremonies to effectively enforce the ban on FGM have been conducted in four out of 11 FGM practicing counties in Liberia, Montserrado, Grand Cape Mount, Nimba and Bong counties.

During a recent visit to Lofa County, the spokesperson of the Traditional Council Mawatta Kamara said the ban is working and the bush school is no longer being open since the ban was imposed. Madam Kamara said children are the future leaders, therefore, their education must be prioritized to prepare them for the future ahead, “There should be more opportunities given to girls children and their education should be respected despite their location” she said.

According to Madam Kamara, the practice of FGM has been part of Liberia’s culture and tradition for decades, noting that the Practice was intended to prepare women and girls to cater for their husbands and children. “At some point in time some of our people were misusing the practice while others saw it as a business, this practice was a way of life, and we appreciate it so well” Madam Kamara added.

Ma-watta Kamara noted that the practice used to be a full-time job for traditional women leaders providing for their family’s livelihoods, but the ban has created a huge gap and different challenges. “There are people who don’t understand the culture value, but they are in it for business purposes disseminating misinformation”
Mawatta Kamara noted that few counties are currently benefiting from the alternative livelihood program intended to build the capacity of Zoes and improve their lives positively.

She said Traditional practitioners who previously practiced FGM are transitioning to alternative economic livelihood programs such as Climate-Smart Agriculture, Village Savings and Loan Associations and Business Management through the help and support of local and international partners.

The program aimed at providing sustainable income sources and empowering traditional practitioners to move away from harmful practices and getting involve with sustainable farming techniques, facilitating community-based savings and lending groups and Providing skills for managing small businesses.

Over 800 former traditional practitioners of FGM are benefitting from the alternative economic livelihood programs including vocational skills training with support from the European Union, United Nations and Government of Liberia Spotlight Initiative.

“Government has taken a very good step to ban FGM in Liberia which I think will help young girls in rural communities to focus more on their education rather than having divided minds, I am happy for this because we have advocated for this over the years and seeing it come to reality is something worth commanding the government” anti FGM activist Faith Kanneh said.

Madam Kanneh called on government to enforce the Alternative Livelihood Program as means of supporting traditional leaders to get involved in alternative activities as a way of ensuring bush schools are closed not to interfere with normal academic activities.

According to madam Kanneh, “Traditional people are currently faced with challenges due to the closing of bush school, this is where they used to get their daily bread from, closing the bush school will mean they have to get involve in alternative livelihood activities, because there is a likelihood that they will soon start going back to the bush schools if anything is done to address their different challenges”.

The anti FGM activist recommended that government do routine monitoring to ensure the ban is fully implemented across the country. “Although there exists laws and policies against FGM, although it has been banned but they should do constant monitoring to make sure that the ban is fully taken into consideration by the traditional people, also provide traditional people with food, clothes and other materials to help them survive, it is about the future of those young people most especially young girls that are involved”.

Liberia signaled its commitment to ending FGM during the global convening of world leaders and women’s rights activists at the Generation Equality Forum in Paris in 2021, where Liberia pledged to pursue efforts to end Gender Based Violence and became a signatory to the collective commitment on eradicating harmful practices, including FGM.

UN Women and its partners have commended traditional leaders and communities so far for their unwavering commitment to ending FGM in Liberia and embracing the concept of ‘initiation without mutilation’ which upholds positive cultural practices as part of the rites of passage of young girls, whilst eliminating FGM.

“Although progress has been made in eliminating FGM, Liberia is one of only three counties in the region yet to outlaw FGM,” is working says Comfort Lamptey, UN Women Liberia Country Representative.
“We call on all stakeholders to continue ensuring collective commitment to ending this harmful practice and ensuring the fundamental rights and dignity of women and girls are realized. We call on lawmakers to ensure that the FGM Bill that is currently before the legislature is passed into law.”

UN Women with funding from the Government of Sweden is working with the Government of Liberia and NACCEL to commemorate FGM Day and conduct bush school closure events in other counties.

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