VEZELA, VOINJAMA, Lofa County – The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Resident Coordinator, ad interim, Mr. Antony Akumu Abogi, has lauded traditional leaders for their efforts so far in supporting the ban on FGM but requests more action to ensure that the ban is fully enforced, including through legislation.
By Garma Lomo, Contributing Writer
The UN envoy made the remarks during the official closing ceremony of the Lofa County grove (Sande Society Bush) on February 6, 2024, in Vezela, Lofa County.
Mr. Abogi said the closure of Lofa County’s Sande Society Bush coincides with the world commemorating the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.
He noted that this day is a time for reflection on the need to end Female Genital Mutilation, a harmful traditional practice that violates the rights of women and girls. It is also a day to celebrate the achievements we have made so far in the process of abolishing FGM and how we can consolidate everyone’s efforts to continue safeguarding women and girls’ rights, including the right to live a life free from FGM.
The theme for the 2024 commemoration of International Women’s Day is “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.
He added that globally, more than 200 million girls and women have undergone FGM. In Liberia, statistics from the Health and Demographic Survey (DHS) showed that 38.2% of women and girls aged between 15 and 49 years have undergone FGM.
The UN Resident Coordinator commended Chief Zanzan Karwor for the historic step taken in declaring a full ban on FGM in February 2023 and for efforts made since then to ensure that the FGM ban is implemented in four counties. Today, Lofa is becoming the fifth county to take a bold step in implementing a full ban on FGM.
“I congratulate the traditional leaders of Lofa for opting to adopt the concept of “initiation without mutilation” in replacement of the FGM harmful social norm.” Alternative rites of passage need to honor the dignity, autonomy, physical, and mental health of young girls.
Mr. Abogi reminded all participants that the UN System and partners respect the traditional and cultural values of Liberia; however, practices that negatively affect the health and life of women and girls need to be abolished, and the rights of women and girls need to be protected.
He called upon development partners to invest in survivor-led movements as per the theme of this year. Resources and investments to support the work of survivors and activists to end FGM need to be considered to complement the work started by traditional leaders to mobilize communities to move away from the harmful practice of FGM.
The Head of UN Human Rights lauded CSOs for keeping up the good work in working with communities and supporting traditional leaders in monitoring the implementation of the FGM ban, reporting violations, and engaging with communities in preventive actions aimed at the protection of women and girls against FGM.
He also recognized the EU and the Government of Sweden for their generous support for the work aimed at creating a positive shift in social norms, availing the heritage center to empower former practitioners, and supporting the efforts of the National Council of Chiefs and Elders of Liberia (with technical support from Crusaders for Peace) to ban FGM and enforce the ban in different counties.
He ended on a note calling on local communities to continue working together and in collaboration with all partners to ensure that the future of women and girls is brighter and free from FGM.
For his part, the Chairman of the National Chiefs and Elders of Liberia, Zanzan Karwor, thanked the citizens of Lofa County for their willingness to close down the bush school.
Chief Karwor used the occasion to call on chiefs and Zoes to be peaceful in the discharge of their duties in their respective counties.
The Chief Zoe, in a political turn, highlighted that the election has come and gone, and his mission now is to preach the message of peace.
The head of the transitional council of Liberia, who previously criticized the current President, now praised him, stating that he’s no longer an old car parked in the garage but instead a new car with a new engine.
He threatened to penalize any chiefs and elders traditionally who will go against the appointed Ministry of Internal Affairs Minister Francis S. Nyumali and called on all Zoes and Chiefs to work with President Joseph Nyuma Boakai.
Chief Karwor also urged traditional Zoes to find non-Sande Society Bush members who will pass to their traditional places unknown to them to be fined rather than forcefully initiating them.
Meanwhile, Chief Karwor called on the UN authorities, EU, Swedish Embassy, and other embassies near Monrovia to end their good works by providing solar light systems to those multi-purpose vocational centers for women.
For his part, Mr. Anders Arvidsson, EUD Deputy Head of Mission, of the European Union, expressed his thanks and appreciation to the Crusaders for Peace and local partners for the bold steps taken so far.
The EU is the lead sponsor behind the Spotlight Initiative in several counties in order to eliminate Sexual Gender-Based Violence.
Mr. Arvidsson indicated that FGM has been a widespread issue affecting several women and girls in Liberia and the world at large.
He added that women and girls have the rights to their own bodies and have the right to say no to harmful traditional practices.
The EU deputy head of the mission pledged his mission’s commitment to supporting or funding alternative livelihood programs for women and girls in order to see a better future for them.