Fatmata Turay was not killed by circumcision – says Sierra Leone minister of social welfare

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 26 August 2016

Africa progress panel1

After much global publicity about the cause of death of a nineteen year old woman in Sierra Leone – Fatmata Turay, after undergoing circumcision, the official cause of death is now known. She died of ‘bilateral lobar pneumonia – seriously affecting her lungs’, according to results of examination conducted by the government pathologist – Dr. Owizz Koroma.

Responding to comments made at the recent press conference held in Freetown by the Forum Against Harmful Practices (FAHP), Sierra Leone’s minister of social welfare said that  Fatmata Turay “also had extensive other pathologies and conditions throughout her internal organs in her chest cavity, her abdominal cavity and her pelvic cavity”.

“It is the decision of her family members not to publicise what other conditions were found by Dr. Owizz Koroma in her chest, abdomen and pelvis. I respect that.”

This is the minister’s full statement issued yesterday.

I have read media reports of a press conference held on August 24th by the Forum Against Harmful Practices (FAHP) in which I am accused of refusing to give the green light to implement a so-called “National Strategy” against female circumcision which is also dubbed as FGM.

Notable is that female circumcision is practised by Bondo Women who make up the vast majority of our female populace in Sierra Leone. My position on under-aged and forceful female circumcision is known by everyone who cares in this country.

At any major platform I have expressed my disdain for initiating people against their will, as well as initiating young girls.

Now, let me upfront state that FAHP has never expressed their concerns to me prior to that press conference.

I have been directly contacted by UN Agencies on the so-called national strategy against FGM and I have expressed the concerns of the vast majority of Sierra Leone women to them.

 As a result, both UNICEF and UNFPA are currently working with my senior ministry staff in widening the consultations to include more rural women. This has been ongoing for the past four weeks now.

We are on track to ensure rural women and traditional women take the lead on implementing whatever we are going to implement. My vision is for the Soweis and active practitioners of female circumcision to believe in whatever national strategy my ministry develops, so that they can be the ones driving the implementation. Anything other than that, is a waste of energy.

I am now challenging the FAHP to produce any evidence of them ever expressing concern to me (in writing or otherwise) over the so called “national” FGM strategy. I challenge them to indicate if prior to their press conference on Wednesday, they ever told me they are unhappy with me. They have never done so! Never.

Many concerned women have told me that they believe the FAHP ongoing scheme is just dirty politics being played and they have urged me not to be distracted. I will not be distracted, but let me just highlight a few points.

The so called “national” FGM strategy document I was given upon taking office, indicates hundreds of thousands of dollars is to be granted to FAHP and Cohorts but let these organizations keep in mind that we cannot sacrifice respect for views of majority of our women on the altar of hundreds of thousands of dollars they seek to be granted.

Every stakeholder should feel a part and parcel of any national strategy or else, it is not a national strategy but a parochial one.  I repeat, Every stakeholder should feel a part and parcel of any national strategy or else, it is not a national strategy but a parochial one.

I inherited a draft strategy that has already received serious criticisms from a huge swathe of Sierra Leone women who say they were not consulted in its development.

I have several communication from many women’s groups around Sierra Leone asking me to put a hold on implementing the strategy until they are fully involved in its development. These represent the vast majority of Sierra Leone women.

Meanwhile, I have never, I repeat, NEVER, received any communication from the so called FAHP expressing concern over me allegedly failing to act on the strategy. The first time I heard of their supposed displeasure with me was from their press conference they held on Wednesday.

To my mind, their entire press conference and media antics are borne of some political posturing. It appears to be just dirty politics clouded in advocacy. In fact, points-scoring supersedes Children’s Rights as far as FAHP recent activities go. I seriously ponder on whether FAHP really cares about children?

If they care for children, then why was FAHP so insensitive as to post unedited photos of little girls who are victims and worse of all, go on to identify these little vulnerable children by their names and even heartlessly and callously list the name and class of the specific school that one of the victims is attending in Freetown?

Identifying those victims like that and posting their faces on social media, is just criminal on many fronts.

My deputy minister Madam Neneh Turay used to be the chair of the FAHP until even after she was named as deputy minister. She only gave up as the substantive chair few weeks back.

Now just recently, she has been engaged in frontal gross insubordination towards my authority as her immediate boss to an extent of going on social media to publicly counter my expressed positions – which are positions I inherited as launched in our government’s National Agenda For Prosperity. She is unapologetic in publicly countering me.

So, therefore I see the FAHP press conference as a mere extension of her allies continuing to try to disrespect my leadership and distract my attention.

Otherwise, why did the FAHP not first try to specifically draw my attention to their concerns over the status of the strategy with me? Did they ever write to me expressing displeasure over their perceived delay on my part? No, Never! The timing of their attack on me, is all suspect but I will not be distracted.

I am in this seat to represent the interests of all the women of Sierra Leone. And I mean *ALL* women. Not just the Freetown elite or intellectuals or the collectors of hundreds of thousands of dollars but all the women including the rural and illiterate women whom I have to show the greatest possible respect and be especially sensitive in how I handle issues concerning long held beliefs of theirs.

If the vast majority of Sierra Leone women are in the rural areas, my leadership of the Gender Sector is going to be tailored to ensure their interests are well captured in any national strategy on FGM.

I have to ensure they can trust me and my leadership of that critical ministry. And so far, they are extremely happy with my leadership of the Ministry. I give God the glory.

Yes, I will also seek the interest of the minority women in the big towns who are receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from Western interest groups. Yes, I will listen to them as well and I will also seek their interests but all such various interests will be carefully balanced by me. I am the Leader in the Gender sector. I am the Minister. I have to seek everyone’s interests.

I will meanwhile be extending an Invitation to FAHP for them to meet me some time early next month. The exact date will be communicated to them by my Diary keeper. It is my hope that our meeting in September, might bring about a better mutual understanding.

Until then, I am well focused on what is of more importance to me including the protection and best interests of the vulnerable girls of Sierra Leone. I refuse to be distracted.

Finally, and this is EXTREMELY important. Much has been said by unscrupulous persons about a 19 years old who died a few days after she was circumcised of her own volition.

I went up to Makeni in Northern Province so as to witness the autopsy / postmortem conducted on her. I am a trained and qualified medical doctor and I have witnessed several post mortem examinations.

According to Government Chief Pathologist Dr. Simeon Owizz Koroma who conducted the postmortem in my personal presence alongside the presence of civil and traditional authorities, the 19 years old Fatmata Mustapha Turay, primarily died of bilateral lobar pneumonia (her two lungs were badly affected) and she also had extensive other pathologies & conditions throughout her internal organs in her chest cavity, her abdominal cavity and her pelvic cavity.

It is the decision of her family members not to publicise what other conditions were found by Dr. Owizz Koroma in her chest, abdomen and pelvis. I respect that.

I respect the family’s right to their privacy as well as respect for the late lady’s memory. FAHP and other interested parties can contact the family for more information if they so desire.

The Police have since released the Soweis and the Nursing Sister with apologies from the Police. The case has been closed by the Police as they found no crime was committed. I believe the late young lady should now be allowed to rest in peace.

Her death has been abused and mis-used too much now by those who are overzealous to score cheap points. Please let her soul now rest in peace.

May the Almighty continue to guide us all.

Hon. Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden (Cabinet Minister in charge of Sierra Leone’s Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Issues)
FREETOWN
Thursday August 25th 2016.

11 Comments

  1. Moustache please get off your holy high horse and give us space from your religious imperialism. You are too full of it.
    Religion is personal but you seem to be imposing your belief on others and this is just as bad as the soweis you are crucifying.
    Stop condemning people as if you are prophet Issiah which you are not thank God.
    I dont believe that any female under 21 should be subjected to circumcision and even where it is carried out it must be with the consent of the individual.
    Change in this country can only come through education and time not through your religious imperialism or neocolonialistic mentality.
    When women in this country can see the irrelevance of female circumcision then we will see change.
    So please stop abusing the holy bible and the intelligence of our people. Thank you.

  2. Foday Madama,

    Sincerely speaking, I prefer to be called a Gboroka than die and go to hell where there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth for children of Satan, including secret society members such as Poro, Wondei, Gbangbani, Hunting, Ojeh, Freemasonry, Bondo, etc. To freely tell you the truth:

    “You and your cohorts need divine deliverance from the evil forces of darkness that have deliberately held your souls and bound them for eternal destruction.”

    I ask that you see a Pastor or Man of God from any Evangelical, Pentecostal, Apostolic, Holiness Pentecostal, Redeem, Jesus Is Lord, Assembly of God, New Testament, etc. Church and REPENT of your sins. He will stand in your behalf and pray for you. Also, I ask that you read the book titled “Delivered From The Powers Of Darkness” by Emmanuel Eni. It is a 9-chapter book. You can either access it on Youtube or buy a copy and have it for yourself.

    That is the book I read which transformed my whole life and I became a born again believer of Jesus Christ, who is forever praised. The Devil is a liar! Amen.

  3. Ms Sylvia Blyden,

    I completely disagree with you for saying that the Late Ms Fatmata Turay was ‘circumcised by her own volition.’ For your information, it was NOT a matter of choice or decision made by her, but Ms Turay’s family to deliberately initiate her into Bondo female genital mutilation, which turned out to be fatal.

    As far as I know about ‘secret initiations,’ including Bondo traditional and cultural practice, in Sierra Leone are done forcefully with the consent of the heads of the households. This is how it’s carried out all over in the country, and must be stopped without any hesitation.

    By the way, please find below a grammatical mistake, which you made yesterday August 26, 2016 and its correction.

    MISTAKE:

    “Much has been said by unscrupulous persons about ‘a 19 years’ old who died a few days after she was circumcised of her own volition.”

    CORRECTION:

    “Much has been said by unscrupulous persons about ‘a 19-year’ old who died a few days after she was circumcised of her own volition.”

  4. Foday – your Bondo et al are no more secret! So sorry for you to still think this way, and you calling people names, such as Gborokas!

    All I know is “who feels it knows it”, and it has to stop by allowing Bondo by choice not by force . Please check the internet and see what it has become, with all the reality or graphic images on the practice.

    Its about witchcraft spirit in the land and people just too stubborn to see the reality. Above all, the Sowies are not the majority women group in the country, please let her do her research well.

    Politics must stop now, and the president must do as leaders in the Gambia, Nigeria, etc. have done. I feel sorry for our poor rural women who are being used by so called educated, feel good speeches about these poor women. But good luck to your political dreams.

    Those of us affected will continue to speak up with genuine voices, with no ties to million dollars funding, but with a stand to see it banned to protect our girls.

    I am not an FAHP member as an individual or organization. I am a honest, genuine activist of Child/girls/women’s rights. My heart goes to the family of poor Fatmata, and may her soul rest in peace.

    http://www.gcnsierraleone.org

    • Anira Koroma – I do respect people’s opinion. But when it comes to traditional practices in our country, they shall not be banned, and even if you succeeded in your campaign with others to ban these practices, I believe people will still continue to practice regardless of such law, because it has never been harmful to the point you and those fake organisations are portraying.

      And by the way, the word Gborokas is a temne word for none initiators.

      God bless Sierra Leone, and it cultural traditions.

  5. The majority of the people of small Sierra Leone, with a population of only about 7 million, have been largely politicized and corrupted in every way, shape and form. I saw this report of Ms Sylvia Blyden coming. And I am NOT surprised at all at her level of hypocrisy.

    Ms Sylvia Blyden has now become an “expert” in bringing in her former Lecturer, Dr. Owiss Koroma, to politically interfere and participate in the autopsy, thereby finding a medically treatable cause of death of Late Ms Fatmata Turay, and that has nothing to do with FGM. Is this the way to conduct a post mortem without any political personality involved in the examination? I don’t think so.

    Shame on President Koroma, Sylvia Blyden and Dr. Owiss Koroma!

    Please find below what the former Minister of Information, Mr. Alpha Kanu, said in a paragraph in October 2014 about Ms Blyden as follows:

    “Sierra Leone is a typical example of how women’s role in governance have changed significantly as the head of state, President Ernest Bai Koroma has made it his priority to narrow the gender gap by appointing women to important positions in government to help steer the nation’s agenda for prosperity. It is with this view that the President brought in Sylvia Blyden to government. Hoping she will contribute to help validate the need to have more women in government. But Blyden has refused to shake off her controversial past and instead of taking her job seriously, she continued her personal vendetta against those she saw as threat to her fiefdom as the natural women’s leader and advocate. Sylvia Blyden thrives on controversy and would take on issues unrelated to her job in an effort to impress her boss the president, and in the process attempt to denigrate others to make herself look good and present herself as the one who has all the solutions to the country’s problems. And she would stop at nothing to destroy those she believe are stealing the limelight from her. Her passion to use her own media apparatus to promote her persona and position can only be matched by her ruthlessness in dealing with her so called detractors.”

    See the article itself “Sierra Leone’s Information Minister Alpha Kanu describes Sylvia.”

    There is no doubt of the fact that the souls of female genitally mutilated persons, including Late Ms Fatmata Mustapha Turay et al, will definitely NOT rest in peace until those responsible for cutting short their lives are brought to justice either here on earth or hell.

    I ask that the political government of Sierra Leone exercise some amount of seriousness on the issue of FGM by holding a referendum and let the people – both men and women vote on it at the upcoming presidential and general elections.

    If that does not work, then it will be up to the International Community, including the UN to act with effective consequences on the violators. These Bondo deaths and obituaries have got to stop without any further delay. Amen.

    1. Sierra Leone News: Police arrest 3 in suspected FGM death.

    “The Education Act of Sierra Leone and the law which protects the rights of children to education, is silent about FGM.

    The law says initiating people below 18 and without their consent is a crime but rights groups say the word initiation is open to interpretation and wants the government to explicitly ban the practice.

    FGM has been banned in neigbouring countries, including Senegal, Nigeria and Gambia, but as the constitution is being reviewed, Mary Conteh says banning the practice must form part of the discussion.”

    See “Awoko Newspaper Friday August 19, 2016.”

    2. Will the deaths of these 5 girls from FGM spark a global wake-up call?

    “Girls have been dying as a result of female genital mutilation (FGM) since its origin several thousand years ago, but increased awareness of the issue and better sharing of information has meant that the last year has seen more and more of these cases come to light than ever before.

    Last week, Fatmata Mustapha Turay, a 19-year-old from the Bombali District in Sierra Leone died after undergoing FGM as part of a secret society initiation, common both in her country and in Liberia. Dr. Sylvia Blyden, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, has requested that forced and underage initiations are prohibited. However, although Sierra Leone has ratified the African Union’s ‘Maputo Protocol’, which includes a requirement to make all FGM illegal — including for those over 18 — one year later, this ban has yet to be enacted. In response to this, a coalition of local activists, supported by Project ACEi and Equality Now, are using the #SaloneBanFGM hashtag to launch a campaign today, demanding that Sierra Leone bans this human rights violation as a matter of urgency.”

    See “http://nytlive.nytimes.com/womenintheworld/2016/08/24/will-the-death-of-these-5-girls-from-fgm-spark-a-global-wake-up-call/.”

  6. Cultural societies in Sierra Leone like the Poro, Bondo, Wonday, GbanGbany, Ojeh etc. etc. are part of most of us, and continue to play unifying role in our culture. The loss of life is regrettable to both family and society, especially when initiation to the sacred Bondo Society is supposed to be a time of happiness to the family and the young lady.

    Some of us that hail from the provinces know how these societies hold us together and represent part of our identities. The way some of the western organisations and our GBOROKA brothers and sisters speaking ill about these societies – especially the BONDO, is offensive to most of us, because we believe that cutting the woman hardly kills, except she has underlying medical problem which the SOWEIS might not have noticed .

    The whole of Gbonkolenken chiefdom in the Tonkolili district have never experienced such. And to be honest, such occurrences, if any like this one in Makeni, are very very rear. So we cannot use this single incident as mischief to insult our traditions.

    So please, if you are not part of any society mentioned above, it tells who you are. So please direct your criticisms to yourself, because a nation that starts to speak ill of, or sway away from it traditions, is bound to fail.

    Wait a minute, you are joining the Chorus of western organisations in condemning our traditions (FGM to be specific), but you are not condemning the Gay Marriages and the lesbians Marriages that have become the order of the day in the west; you forget that the Bible mentioned such evil for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah – God was so angry he destroyed them.

    The bible says God created man and woman to multiply and fill the earth, your western partners are deviating from God’s word. You should condemn them and not our traditional societies.

  7. Dathan Jones a few months ago I read an article here and my immediate response was similar to yours.

    Then I realised that the Sierra Leone Telegraph is the only top class newspaper in Sierra Leone that gives opportunity for readers to comment. But I also had to remind myself that a trusted newspaper is one that publishes news from all sides even though I may disagree or find some of their articles annoying.

    This article looks factual to me. It tells me what the minister said about her policy on fgm. I disagree with her but will not blame this very fine newspaper.

    Look at it this way. They publish criticisms. Which other paper does that.

  8. There has been much discussion about the cause of death for this young lady, but is it true that due to Ebola restrictions, women still are not allowed to be circumcised at this time. Regardless of the cause of death, was there a violation of the current restrictions against circumcising women?

    People are so skilled in the art of distraction that they are good at helping others lose focus on the core issue. Was there a violation of the Ebola restriction on circumcising women at this time? If so, what is the penalty and how will that be enforced? The cause of death is irrelevant to the violation if there is currently a restriction still in place.

  9. Sylvia Blyden just proved to be world that she is a typical politician by diverting the attention from this case and creating a different subject by using her permanent secretary who is a career civil servant as a political pawn by forming an alliance with her fellow corrupt politicians and representatives from the state house to throw him under the bus for $3000 without even giving him any chance to explain the details of the bank transaction even though he was pleading to them to wait his arrival.
    Even in advanced countries,it usually takes at least a month for an autopsy results to come out as in the case of Moseray Fadika.
    According to her to question about the death of these victims is just to score cheap political points but recording a professional career civil service official who often clean up all the messes created by the politicians is fighting corruption.
    I hope and pray that the investigation will be transparent and just since Sylvia Blyden have already convicted or jumped into conclusion by singing praises to God in the background recording of the tape.
    I am also curious to know the outcome of the Ebola investigation about the missing 12 million dollars.

  10. This paper was until few months ago one of the few places you would come and get a balance report of what is going on in our country.

    I know it is free and therefore we should not grumble. However, the credibility that it was given by a lot of people was unparallel.

    Unfortunately, recent happenings are making some of us to ask as to whether the Editorial Board has changed or not?

    Like Fatmata Turay, who does not know that in Sierra Leone, over 70% of us have undiscovered illnesses that are waiting for a catalyst to trigger them to take hold of their victims? The Question would be; did the FGM that generally comes with an excessive loss of blood thereby making the victim anaemic trigger all these other complications that are enumerated in the Minister’s letter?

    In a country where only the old aged Dr. Owisss Koroma is the Alpha and Omega, it is so painful to read irrational stories like this coming from a Minister who has put Politics ahead of Human rights and human life. Fatmata’s parent would not get a second opinion on this matter. Like Fatmata many would continue to die unless the likes of Deputy Minister Neneh Turay are given the free hand to do something about this archaic inhumane act.

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