Stop abusing us in the name of culture
Despite public support for the banning of female genital mutilation, commonly known as FGM in Africa and the rest of the world, millions of girls and young women still undergo this practice every year. My country Liberia is no exception. FGM, according to a World Health Organization definition, involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue and hence interfering with natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies. The majority of women who undergo such a harmful and inhumane practice are forced by their parents and or elders; some lose their lives while others are left to live with the permanent and traumatic effects.
As a young woman, I am of the opinion that this practice is out of date, inhumane and harmful and should be totally abolished. FGM started when few men thought women were nothing but sex partners who had no place in society but in the bedroom and the kitchen. To control them, they created this ideology claiming it was part of their culture. For centuries they succeeded in carrying out this dehumanizing practice because women were illiterate and uneducated regarding the health implications of such practices. Now the world has changed; studies have shown that FGM causes death, infertility, maternal mortality, increased complications in child birth, and a higher likelihood of contracting HIV. I believe it’s time we stop this practice.
According to a World Health Organization (WHO) survey, an estimated 92 million girls from 10 years of age and above have undergone FGM in Africa with 3 million at risk annually. With such a statistic, you can agree that FGM is indeed rampant in Africa. According to WHO reports, the prevalence rate in Liberia is at 60% despite the fact that Liberia is among 48 countries to sign the international Zero Tolerance Policy on FGM. According to a survey conducted in 2007, approximately 70% of girls have undergone FGM in Liberia. According to the Director of Psychological Division at the Ministry of Health in Liberia, FGM is a violation of human rights of women as stipulated in Article 24.3 of Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states, “State parties should take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children".
FGM in Liberia is mainly carried out in the Sande School, a traditional school in rural Liberia. Most girls do not know what awaits them at the Sande bush because those who graduate are sworn to secrecy. I attempted to ask these girls about their ordeal at the Sande School, but while most told me they attended the Sande School, most were reluctant to explain their ordeal. FGM is mostly practiced in counties like Grand Bassa, Gbarpolu, Grand Cape Mount, Lofa and Bomi.
The long time argument for FGM is that it is a cultural practice handed down by ancestors. Others claim it discourages women from involving themselves in illicit sexual acts and gets rid of body parts on the female that are considered male or unclean.
We are in the 21st century and the world is changing. Back then our ancestors did not know the health implications of this practice, but now that we know why then do we continue this practice? Some say it discourages illicit sexual activities. I believe if we were to focus more on giving a girl an education that would solve the problem because with education comes the sense of responsibility, hopes of a brighter future and aspirations. Still another argument is that FGM rids girls of unclean body parts. Who are we to determine if something is clean or unclean when God made everyone in his image and likeness?
I know you now agree with me that FGM must indeed be abolished. Although the President of Liberia has openly condemned this practice, it’s time we make FGM a criminal offense as it represents a crime against humanity. With thousands of Liberian girls at risk of getting HIV, not getting a proper education, not to mention the sexual, traumatic consequences of such an act, what more proof do we need to show that FGM is indeed inhumane?
• This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.