Liberia: UN Goodwill Ambassador for Africa on FGM Calls on Traditional Leaders to Preserve and Refine Tradition
MONROVIA – The visiting United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for Africa on Female Genital Mutilation and Child Marriage Jaha Dukureh has underscored the need for women and girls across the African continent, including Liberia to be adequately empowered to help combat against the harmful practices of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the region.
Ambassador Dukureh is currently in Liberia to participate in the 16 days of activism against Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBVs).
By Obidiah Johnson
The 16-Days of Activism Against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence is an international campaign that is commemorated annually to reinforce, elevate and collaborate efforts intended to end all forms of violence against women and girls.
It is being held under the national theme: “With one voice, let’s end violence against women and children.” The international theme is: Ending violence against women and girls in the context of climate change.”
She stated that if the negative aspects of FGM are to be discouraged across the world, particularly in Africa, investment must be made towards positive ventures and initiatives to discourage parts of African and culture that are detrimental.
She made these comments when at a welcoming ceremony organized by the National Council of Chiefs and Elders and the Liberia Crusaders for Peace held in Monrovia recently.
She recognized the uniqueness and beauty of the African culture
Ambassador Dukureh observed that the African continent has the best of traditions and as such, it is being envied by countries across the world.
She noted as a result of this, Africans, including Liberians should continue to preserve their cultural values and practices.
She maintained that citizens across the continent should continue to “stand by their culture.”
Ambassador Dukureh stressed that the call around the world for the end of Female Genital Mutilation does not in any way imply that Africans should close the “bush schools.”
She maintained any move to combat against the harmful practices of FGM across the African continent, should also have a positive impact on the communities and victims
“It’s important that we put money in the hands of women. When we end FGM, what happens next? Poverty is still in our communities, women are still struggling and it’s important that we find another way.”
Ambassador Dukureh said women should be empowered to engage in agricultural activities and the weaving of traditional materials that are crucial to the history of the continent as part of efforts to discourage them from engaging into the harmful practices of FGM.
She observed that the traditional dress code of Africans and their culture make them to be admired by citizens of other countries across the world.
As a result of this, she stressed that the African culture must be promoted and protected to ensure that women “have enough to take care of their families and send their daughters to school.”
Ambassador Dukureh maintained that investment in girls’ education is significant across the continent.
She added that various communities across the region will be empowered if proper investments are done in the education of girls.
“Woman if you invest in a girl child, you empower the whole community. I myself went through FGM because; I come from a traditional background.”
Ambassador Dukureh emphasized that the practice of FGM will not change or take away the things that make women who they are, but the growing wave of violence against women and girls must come to an end.
Don’t Need the West
“We don’t need the West to come and tell us what to do and how to do it. We have to come out with solutions for the benefit of our people.”
She, however, pledged her commitment and support to work with women in Liberia to find solutions and benefits towards ending the harmful practices of FGM in the post-conflict nation.
“Along with UN Women, we are ready to continue working with traditional leaders, especially the women traditional leaders – they are the custodians of our traditions. Without you, we don’t know who we are; without you we will not know where we are heading.”
“When we lose our culture and tradition, we have lost our way as a society. It is important for us to invest in ways to keep the positive aspects of our culture.”
Ambassador Dukureh maintained that these positive aspects should be a benefit to all those involved into these practices as well as the communities.
“Africa is my heart and I come from a family where my mother and father never went to school and my father. When I stand here and talk about violence against women, it’s not because I hate my culture. I love my culture and I’m the most African person you can find anywhere. Our culture and people are beautiful.”
For her part, the Executive Director of the Liberia Crusaders for Peace (LCP), Madam Juli Endee stated that in order to stop violence against women and girls, issues affecting the victims must be looked at critically.
Ambassador Endee is also the Cultural Ambassador of Liberia.
She named early marriage, political and other forms of violence are some of the main issues contributing to the rise in SGBVs in Liberia and other countries across the continent.
She said rape of young girls and women, and sodomizing of young boys remain other issues that should not be downplayed.
Ambassador Endee observed that women continue to be hated and marginalized in the political and in the artistic industry because of their gender.
“All of these things being meted against women, we are saying it should stop and it should stop now. We have come to say we must look at women peace and security UN Resolution 1325 where there should protection, participation and promotion of women at all levels.”
“FGM was never discussed in our communities, but now we are discussing it and I believe that Liberia is on track. We want to extend thanks to the Government of Liberia.”
She stressed the need for continuous advocacy in the communities, towns and villages to ensure that the celebration of the diversity of African cultures and traditions through patriotism.
Ambassador Endee said if Liberia to pen a signature to any document to do away or minimize the practice of FGM, several issues must be taken into consideration.
She noted that FGM should be discussed with communities and leaders, including Zoes that are involved with the practice.
“The traditional people and Liberia are on track when it comes to the awareness and advocacy of FGM. I am not saying that we should not discuss FGM. I am saying that the same way there are positive issues about our culture that need to take the lead and put the negative at the bottom.”
She pointed out that the negative manner and form in which the practice is discussed makes “those who are part” to stay away from any discussion on the matter.
“If you want us to live by example, you need to reach out to us (Zoes) and let us discuss it. Sometimes it ends. The way it is discussed makes people to shy away. Don’t tell us to close the bushes, no. the one that is not good or the want you want me to stop. If you want me to stop the one that is not good, you need to put that one under and bring the good want.”
Ambassador Endee added that if government wants the “negatives of FGM” to be stopped economic empowerment for women and girls must be put in place, including investment in arts and craft, the showcasing of the cultural values, among others.
She observed that there are other good benefits of the practice that are not being disclosed.
“When you don’t know the procedures you will fail. Child who doesn’t ask questions will always miss the door. We are not saying that we don’t want to stop. 11 counties are practicing FGM; it cannot just be stopped today. But we have assured you in Liberia that it is possible.”
She further called for the involvement of the traditional chiefs and elders if the negative aspects of FGM are to be downplayed.
Ambassador Endee said these traditionalists should be the ones communicate to their counterparts to discourage them from intensifying on the detrimental portions of their culture and tradition.
“It is possible. We are ready to do it but, we want to do it right so together, we can be strong.”
FGM is a human rights abuse that continues to affect the lives of millions of women and girls around the world.
The World Bank estimates that as of 2020, Liberia had a prevalence rate of 31.8%. In Liberia, FGM is deeply entrenched within the culture and is performed by traditional leaders, the zoes, as a rite of passage into womanhood and is part of an initiation into the powerful secret society – the Sande – which is run by women.
The zoes are so powerful that membership is necessary for social, economic, or political influence in villages in around two-thirds of the country. Non-members could be kidnapped and forced to undergo FGM for discussing Sande issues, breaking Sande law, or passing close to the Sande bush schools.
In 2018, Liberia outlawed FGM for one year through Executive Order No 92 on Domestic Violence. This Order only prohibited performing FGM on a girl under 18 years and stipulated punishment for people who violated the order.
However, the order was not effectively implemented since it was not publicized by the government and most Liberians were unaware of its existence. In some other instances, the National Traditional Council, in coordination with the government, suspended the Sande bushes where FGM is practiced, the most recent being during Covid-19. Still, these suspensions have never led to long-term or permanent action against FGM.
Although Liberia is party to a number of international and regional human rights conventions and protocols calling for the protection of women and girls from FGM, such as the Maputo Protocol, which in Article 5 calls explicitly on State Parties to ban all forms of FGM through legislative measures, which Liberia ratified in 2008, the country does not have a law prohibiting FGM for all ages.
Early this year, the Chairman of the National Council of Chiefs and Elders announced a three-year suspension on FGM.