Salaam Deen Bundu
Sierra Leone Telegraph: 24 May 2017
Hundreds of female leaders (Soweys) of the sacred and highly respected secret, all-female Bondo Society, converged in Waterloo last Friday, 19th May 2017, to perform traditional rites for the unveiling of newly initiated Sowey leaders.
The mammoth gathering of ‘Soweys’ from across the country, assured the government of the Bondo leaders’ commitment to uphold official government policy which calls for zero tolerance towards the circumcision of girls below 18 years.
The event saw a galaxy of government officials from the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs (MSWGCA) in attendance.
The national chairlady of the National Sowey Group, one of the two major Sowey groups in the country – Madam Baromy N’power Mansaray who hosted the event, expressed her appreciation for the president and his government’s support and respect for the sacred Bondo. She said the best way to pay the president back for his traditional respect shown to them, was to also respect his call for them to totally avoid the initiation of girls – as girls are children, not women.
“Our Bondo society has many good values…..so it is a Society which must stay. The Bondo Society continues to be in existence today due to the goodwill of His Excellency and his government. The Honourable Minister of Social Welfare Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden and her ministry officials have spent several months engaging us, through the support of the President. We will always remain grateful to you Mr. President for the respect you have reposed on us as Soweys and as Traditional Leaders in our communities,” she said.
Madam Mansaray said that she herself had travelled across many parts of the country sensitizing her colleagues on the importance of upholding the government’s policy on protecting girls from being initiated into Bondo. She said many of her members are now fully on-board, and that her members even undertake on-the-spot checking for those violating the Policy of the government. She said they were the ones on the frontline now to protect girls in the communities.
Madam Mansaray used the forum as an opportunity to call on government to provide alternative support for Soweys so as to ensure they can maintain their families. “We are still faced with a situation where some of the Soweys only rely on initiation for their feeding. To change that, much needs to be done,” she concluded.
Speaking on behalf of the Northern Region, Madam Ya Nasoko Fleng, thanked the government for its continued support and assured that they will always work in line with the Ministry, especially under the leadership of the current Minister. She assured that they will serve as ambassadors to talk to their communities not to initiate children.
The Eastern Region Chairlady Madam Fanta Jopojo Fillie described the event as a momentous one that warrants big celebrations, as they are more than happy to hear that the government is always willing to support them, if only they can abstain from initiating children. She vowed to report any Sowey caught initiating children.
Speaking on behalf of the Southern Region, Madam Alice Konneh commended the government for supporting the existence of Bondo society in the country and reassured they will work with their Paramount Chiefs to protect girls in the chiefdoms, and shield them until they are 18 years – when they will have the right to decide.
Many of the Soweys from across Sierra Leone, personally thanked the Honourable Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs – Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden for sticking out her neck in protecting and promoting women of the Bondo society to exercise their constitutional right to associate together across the country. They repeatedly assured that they will follow the policy to the letter and will also ensure that they convince fellow women to do likewise, whilst also undertaking self-policing.
Speaking on behalf of the government, the Social Service Officer in the Advancement of Women Department at MSWGCA – Mrs. Fatmata Ejiatu Kargbo, noted that government has made tremendous effort in ensuring the advancement and promotion of women and girls’ rights.
These instruments she said include the national policy on the advancement of Women, the National Gender Mainstreaming policy, the Child Rights Act and the Agenda for Prosperity among others.
She said that Pillar 8 of the Agenda for Prosperity was very clear on the issue of female initiation into the Bondo Society, as it calls for a ban on girls being put through the secret society’s rite of passage.
She noted that the Child Rights Act defines the age of children as 18, therefore it is not permissible to initiate anyone under age 18 years into any secret society.
However, she said that the government respects ‘Bondo’ society as one of the traditional institutions that has contributed to the development of the country. She therefore urged that respect is a two way street, so government is urging ‘soweys’ to reciprocate the respect by protecting a girl’s right to first reach 18 years and beyond, before she can be initiated into the society – and even at that, only if she so desires.
Madam Fatmata Kargbo commended the Soweys who travelled from across the country to witness the event. She implored them to serve as ambassadors to preach to their colleagues who were not opportune to be at the meeting. The event itself saw a massive attendance in Waterloo and was well covered by the media.
However, the Ministry officials who spoke to journalists, said they recognise that the protection of girls should be a continuous process within all sectors of the society – including the media, to come on-board. Many observers present applauded the efforts of government, and also recognise that given the deeply held traditions, it was essential for such engagements between government and Soweys to continue.