It’s time to break the taboo and end FGM in Sierra Leone
On Saturday 17th May, a nine year old Sierra Leonean girl died from female genital mutilation (FGM) related complications. This case is unusual but only in that it was made public and reported. Despite being widespread in Sierra Leone FGM is shrouded in secrecy and rarely openly discussed.
28 Too Many’s new report “Country Profile: FGM in Sierra Leone” shines a light on this secretive practice and shows that there has been a slight fall in the prevalence rate of FGM in Sierra Leone from 2008 to 2013 but the practice still affects approximately 89.6% of women (DHS, 2013). The prevalence rate is as high as 94.3% in rural areas, with the Northern Province having the highest rates.
FGM is a deeply engrained cultural practice in Sierra Leone and is closely linked to girls’ initiation into secret women’s societies (Bondo). 90% of women are members of Bondo and membership of these societies marks a girl’s transition to womanhood and enables her to take an active role in her community. There is no law in Sierra Leone that specifically prohibits FGM and there are many challenges to the enforcement of national children’s rights laws or other legal instruments, especially the secrecy which often surrounds FGM and the political power of Bondo societies. Despite these challenges there are some indicators of change and hope for the future. Since the end of the civil war there has been a growing discourse on women’s rights, health and education. There are a growing number of activists and NGOs working to end FGM and a range of programmes.
“FGM continues to affect the lives of most girls and women in Sierra Leone. There are also an estimated 100,000 Sierra Leoneans living in the UK, many in London and with a prevalence rate of almost 90% in their country of origin many of the girls are at risk of being cut. Only last month a woman returning to the UK from Sierra Leone was arrested at Heathrow on suspicion of conspiracy to commit FGM and a 13 year old Sierra Leonean girl taken into the care of social services,” says Dr Ann-Marie Wilson, Executive Director of 28 Too Many. “Our research shows that there is much to be done, as highlighted in the 12 recommendations in this report, but I am pleased to see an increase in work to end FGM and growing pressure for change.”
The full Country Profile can be downloaded at http://bit.ly/1q6rYbO
Highlights from the Report
- The estimated prevalence of FGM in girls and women (15-49 years) is 89.6% (DHS, 2013), 88.3% (MICS, 2010). These rates appear to have decreased slightly from 91.3% (DHS, 2008).
- There is a worrying increase of WHO type III FGM (infibulation or sewn closed) which is the most invasive and dangerous form of FGM with reports of infibulations varying from 3% (DHS, 2008) rising to 17% (MICS, 2010) and falling back to 9% (DHS, 2013). Further specific research is required to investigate to clarify this data.
- There is no evidence to suggest increased medicalisation of FGM in Sierra Leone. It remains strongly linked to traditional practices and closely linked to Bondo society initiation ceremonies.
- Education is increasingly seen as an important factor to reduce FGM. Its effects may not be immediate or direct, but it is believed to be the best long-term intervention to address FGM. Educated girls are better able to resist family and peer pressure and engage with information about the harm of FGM and their rights (UNICEF, 2008). A challenge in Sierra Leone is that access to education is often restricted, especially for girls.
- FGM is linked to early child marriage in Sierra Leone. The cost of initiation (which is high in a post conflict setting) can be paid for by the betrothed, saving the girl’s family from paying and also receiving a bride wealth in one move.
- There are more than 84 organisations campaigning to end FGM in Sierra Leone and working to support women/girls affected by FGM using a variety of approaches.
28 Too Many is a charity working to end female genital mutilation (FGM). Our primary focus is on research and enabling local initiatives to end FGM in the 28 African countries where it is practised and across the diaspora. We also network and advocate for the global eradication of FGM, working closely with other charities/NGOs in the violence against women sector.
FGM in the Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora
The civil war had a dramatic effect on the population in Sierra Leone, primarily through the loss of thousands of lives, but also through migration as thousands fled the country. According to United Nations (UN) figures, it is estimated that approximately 30% of the educated nationals left for other countries, mainly the USA, the UK and mainland Europe. It is believed that the UK holds the biggest number of Sierra Leoneans, with some organisations estimating 100,000 (Sierra Leonean Diaspora Network). According to the last UK census (Office of National Statistics, as at 27 March 2011) there are 23,520 Sierra Leoneans living in the UK, identified by country of birth, but this number will be considerably higher if including the children of Sierra Leonean parents born in the UK.
Louise Robertson, www.28toomany.org
Stay with Sierra Express Media, for your trusted place in news!
© 2014, https:. All rights reserved.