Liberia: Banning FGM in Montserrado County is Commendable, But Don’t Forget the Other Counties


AFRICA’S OLDEST democratic nation  – last week banned the practice, which involves removing part or all of a girl’s outer sexual organs.

IN A GROUNDBREAKING declaration made on the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, Chief Zanzar Zanzan, head of the Traditional Council of Liberia, with the authorization of 15 paramount Chiefs across Liberia declared, “By the power vested in me by all the Paramount Chiefs of the 15 political divisions in Liberia and signed by myself… FGM is banned in Liberia.” 

CHIEF ZANZAN on the occasion explained that the elaborate ceremonies and rituals undertaken in the lead-up to the Zero Tolerance Day celebration were carried out in order to get authorization from the zoes (the traditional cutters who perform FGM), elders and chiefs to ban the practice in the whole country. 

AROUND A quarter of Liberian women have undergone FGM – which can cause infertility, maternal death, infections and the loss of sexual pleasure – according to 2014 UN data. 

IT IS estimated that 125 million girls and women globally are living with the effects of FGM, which is most widespread in Africa.

THE NEWS of Liberia’s ban on FGM has been welcomed by campaigners, who hope it will have a knock-on effect in other African nations where FGM is still legal and widely practiced.

“This is fantastic news and a landmark moment. We are now one step closer to ending this harmful practice,” said Amb. Jaha Dukureh, UN Women Goodwill Ambassador.

LIBERIA’S DECISION carries significant weight, but it would need to be implemented effectively to give girls a basic level of protection.

SOLVING THE PROBLEM requires going to the roots and changing the narratives and mindset that justify this age-long unwholesome practice. 

RESEARCH BY UNICEF and the United Nations Population Fund has identified cultural and social factors for the continued practice in Liberia and elsewhere. 

MORE INTENSIVE sensitization in communities should be undertaken to dispel the erroneous belief that mutilating girls is a necessary step in raising and preparing a girl for adulthood and marriage. The widespread fallacy that it discourages promiscuity should also be dispelled across Liberia. 

WE ACKNOWLEDGE the efforts made over the years towards ending FGM in Liberia and wish to congratulate the Government leadership in this area, members of Liberian Civil Society, and the broader human rights community. 

WE BELIEVE that their collective efforts have brought us to this moment, including through destigmatization of discussions about FGM in the public space. We laud and commend all who have been part of the journey. 

THE DECLARATION by Chief  Karwor gives this campaign much-needed impetus as it is at the heart of the matter. The custodian and practitioners of the harmful practice of FGM, in a public display of courage, with pomp and circumstance, are laying down their tools and choosing to ‘evolve’ their culture to initiate girls but not mutilate them. 

WE HOPE THAT this laudable effort by the traditional leaders also acts as a fillip for Liberian Parliament to finally pass an anti-FGM law, which would work towards robust legislation against FGM in Liberia and ultimately towards zero cases of FGM in the country.