FGM in Sierra Leone – to ban or not to ban?

Mariama Dumbuya

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 31 August 2016

I have been off social media for the past few weeks and perusing through various fora/social media, I note the hot debate regarding the banning of FGM in Sierra Leone.

The unending “put under the carpet” issue of FGM reared its ugly head to gain the lime light once more, because of the death of a 19 year-old lady who allegedly was initiated prior to her demise, or died in the hands of the Soweis.

Upon careful reflection, I support the call for our Legislature to speedily enact a law that will clearly ban FGM for under 18s. However, in the case of above 18 years, let individual choice prevail.

I do not mean to offend, but please note that I’ll try to explain clearly the reasons for my stance.


mariama-dumbuyaFGM BELOW 18 YEARS

Factually, majority of initiates of FGM are mostly under 18s. So banning FGM will reduce the practice of FGM to minimal level or almost nonexistent level. (Photo: Mariama Dumbuya – Author of this article).

It will be difficult and rare for someone above 18 to willingly subject herself to FGM. In effect, the number of initiates will be drastically reduced.

I read somewhere that Islam supports FGM in order to reduce the desires of women. I wonder why anyone will like to reduce the desire of another, by cutting off what God in His wisdom created.

There is no reference to FGM in the Qur’an (see Denny Federick Mathewson (2001) in McAuliffe, Jane Dammen, Encyclopedia of the Qur’an, 1 AD, pg 366-367). There is however, reference to the practice in other Islamic texts. ( I intend to get clarification of such references from Islamic scholars).

Every person is born different. Some people are sensitive than others, therefore cutting the clitoris to control female desires is totally unacceptable where there has been NO CONSENT.

In this regard, a child initiated might grow up to want a clitoris. It is unfair, inhumane, and a violation of the rights of the child and gross abuse to deprive the initiated girl child of the right to select whether or not to have her clitoris removed at the age of 18 years upwards.

Traditions are good to maintain, but harmful traditions should be discarded

Nigerians used to mark their faces by cutting/marking them with sharp objects. These days, that practice or tradition is almost non-existent, because Nigerians must have realised that marking/cutting their faces negatively impacts them when socialising with other nationalities.

Our Child Rights Act of 2007 is clear that, any person below 18 years is regarded as a child. A child cannot give consent.

Therefore, we must sensitise that initiating any child below 18 years is against the Child Rights Act. The Child Rights Act clearly lays emphasis that the duty of upbringing a child is not just left with the parents and family, but the community at large.

In canvassing for banning initiation of girls below 18 years, it brings to mind circumcision of boys below 18 years for health (cleanliness) reason. In this case, should it be an exception because of the beneficial nature to keep the penis clean?

I hold the view that, if indeed circumcision of boys is related to health, then there is a justification for continuing the practice.

Can the same be said of FGM?

However, another practice comes to my mind. The practice of piercing ears of girl/ child/ women for beauty purpose. This as we know, is mostly done when the girl child is below 18 years.

Is it okay to pierce the ears of a child below 18 years because it is traditional practice to most likely enhance the beauty of the girl child?

Where do we stop accepting certain traditional practices? Where do we draw the line?

Piercing is also painful and can mutilate if not done properly. It is worthy to note that it is rare to see mutilated ears because of piercing. It is further worthy to note that piercing of ears is found almost all over the world.

Going back to the main subject, we should ask ourselves what is/are the advantageous benefit(s) derived from cutting the clitoris of women and girls of a particular group or culture?

If the answer is to reduce sexual desire, then I wonder why other women from different cultures are normal, yet they have their clitoris intact. Food for thought for our dear Sowies.

The fact that the cutting is done using crude cutting implements, poses serious health risk which leaves the community at large with the onus to step in to control the practice.

The traditional rites of the Bondo society (excluding cutting the clitoris), should ( I’d say must) be preserved, because it enhances our culture. I personally love to see the “Bondo devil” masquerade. I love its unique style of dance/dress and the way the mask is carved. Beautiful and artistic.

These are unique cultural aspects that we should preserve to maintain and have a unique culture. A society without culture will not stand above societies with culture. We need to preserve our unique culture that the Bondo rites (excluding the cutting) promotes. That is training young girls to be better in a cultural way. This training MUST EXCLUDE cutting of the clitoris.

18 YEARS OLD AND ABOVE

Where a female above the age of 18 years subjects herself willingly without duress to be initiated or undergo FGM, I humbly state that it is the right and prerogative of such a woman/girl.

Our Constitution is clear about freedom of Association. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is also clear in that regard. I humbly state that the issue of violence against women has no basis in the context of a consenting girl /woman of 18 years and above. It is not violence where there’s consent and willingness.

Some people find pleasure in pain. I need not elaborate. It is hard to face, but it is the reality of a democratic society – the right to choose.

What can we say about plastic surgery? Many women undergo plastic surgery and get a botched job, scarring them for life – mutilating them for life. Can we stop such a practice done by Doctors?

It is not because we do not have such facilities in Sierra Leone, but the fact is there are many Sierra Leonean women who have altered their bodies by plastic surgery, one way or another.

I see FGM for above 18 years old the same way I see a consenting adult opting for plastic surgery or getting a tattoo. It is their business, solely their business. It is their right as a consenting adult. There are many other examples of consenting adults exercising their right.

THE WAY FORWARD

The way forward to control the practice is to ensure that the procedure is done in a safe and healthy way. Therefore, our lawmakers or Government should enact a law or regulation that will set a standard for the procedure conducted during FGM.

This will serve as check and guidelines for Soweis to follow and adhere when carrying out the procedure on a consenting adult. There should be penalties in the event of default.

On the issue of girls below 18 years, the government should enact the ban as soon as possible. It is not fair to take away the right to have a clitoris from a girl child who cannot give consent.

Let girls decide whether or not they want to have clitoris when they are old enough to make the decision.

The Commission set up by virtue of the said Act, empowers the Commission in section 11(a) “to keep under review legislation and customary practices relating to children with a view to advising Government, where appropriate, to adopt legislation and other measures so as to ensure their compatibility with the principles and provisions of the convention”.

The Commission is further empowered in section 11(e) to undertake “through professional training, adult education and child rights promotional activities aimed especially at…female genital mutilation…”

The Commission is also empowered in the same section to render advice regarding laws relating to children in the spirit of promoting the content of the convention.

THE USE OF THE WORD MUTILATION (Food for thought)

Is it mutilation that is done during initiation? Did the word emanate because certain Sowies do mutilate the bodies of girls/women? We need to have stories/facts from girls/women in Sierra Leone in that regard. We need evidence in that regard.

I thus call on Sierra Leonean women who have been ‘mutilated’ by initiation, cutting of the clitoris, to speak up so that we have tangible facts/evidence to back up/support the word “mutilation”. There are many girls/women who have had their clitoris cut off, yet are highly sexually active and sensitive.

Mutilation according to Oxford Dictionary is “infliction of serious damage on something”. In the light of the above definition of mutilation, can one safely say the cutting of the clitoris is mutilation for all?

I note that some cutting are extreme, thus leading to mutilation in the strict sense. Whereas in others the cutting has not affected the women and girls in anyway.

I’m personally undecided in this regard. Food for thought.

THE DEATH OF THE 19 YEAR-OLD GIRL

I do not know whether investigation has been concluded on the death of the young 19 year-old girl or case charged to court.

However, I wonder if murder will hold. It is my humble opinion that even if she died at the hands of the Soweis, except “intent to kill” (mens rea) is present, it will be that of manslaughter and not murder. May her soul rest in peace.

Let me end by repeating that it is high time that our lawmakers take the bold step and amend the Child Rights Act of 2007, to clearly ban FGM or cutting of the clitoris of children, because cutting of the clitoris does not promote “the long or short term best interests of the child”.

10 Comments

  1. What I don’t really like about this topic is the description of the act: (Female Genital MUTILATION) which has been termed by the west to appear quite evil. But why? Is it because it is practice among the African communities?

    Has there been any African country where the parliament has legalised homosexuality (gay and lesbianism) in their community when the holy books – The Bible and The Quran have both condemned the practice among humanity? What about the practice of pornography in explicit movies?

    Do you know that it is now legal BY LAW that in Germany they have the right to marry their pets such as their dogs in their houses and leave everything they own as legacies in their wills? Where lies their humanity?

    Why not simply refer to it as FEMALE CIRCUMCISION?

    Let the West take away their riches and leave us with our poverty in Africa if they are not ready to understand our customs and way of life.

  2. Senesie Boima,

    I completely disagree with you for saying that:

    “And as a consenting adult, the Sowies are being trained or guided by qualified health worker on how to go about the FGM during initiation as it done in South Africa.”

    First, no one, including a healthcare worker, trains or teaches an ungodly Sowei on how to do FGM in Sierra Leone. For she claims to know it all in her humongous illiteracy, with red and white knuckle-headed ties.

    Second, Ms Barbara Kitui, LLM (Human Rights & Democartisation in Africa), Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, South Africa wrote the following statements in the article below since June 7, 2012:

    “Female genital mutilation (FGM) is one of the cultural practises embedded amongst the Venda community of north-east of South Africa. ‘Eight weeks or less after childbirth,’ Venda women undergo a traditional ceremony called muthuso. Muthuso is a process of cutting the vaginal flesh of the mother by a traditional healer. The flesh is mixed with black powder and oil and applied on the child’s head to prevent goni. Goni has been described as a swelling on the back of a child’s head. The Venda people believe that goni can only be cured using the vaginal flesh of the child’s mother. Women who experienced FGM stated that they bleed excessively after the ceremony. Moreover, the women stated that there is no postnatal care in Venda. Consequently, the women use traditional medicine and sometimes this leads to death because of substandard treatment.”

    I ask that you read the whole article itself and see the large number of commentaries against FGM in South Africa. Please educate yourself ‘well well’ and desist from supporting this useless and devilish female genital cutting practice in Sierra Leone. Amen.

    https://africlaw.com/2012/06/07/female-genital-mutilation-in-south-africa/

  3. It is rather strange to me as a born and raised Sierra Leonean to hear discussions on the social media of our grandmothers, mothers, sisters and wives private body parts, which according to our customs and traditions was a taboo, because whatever decision our mothers take with respect to raising their daughters was respected, and discussions about private body parts used to be private.

    Sierra Leone has always been unique when it comes to respecting cultural differences with regard to religion, tribes and customs. That is the primary reason why inter-marriages are common because we usually base our relationships on characters rather than sex objects or what happens to private body parts.

    Our great grandparents have done a great job by shaping this wonderful country which I believe will always be a shining example in terms of tolerance as compared to other nations, and all we need to do now is to maintain rather than destroy that quality which is in our DNA.

  4. There is a saying that Rome was not built in a day’s time. As the writer above has stated, I think that to enhance the safety of the girl below 18 years old and maintaining the sacred institutions of the Bondo Society in Sierra Leone, public health education and the use of qualitative analysis or models are used which should include anatomical pictures of the effects of the practices of female genital mutilations, are held at each chiefdom and district in Sierra Leone privately by trained Ministry of Health officials and Sowies of each chiefdom and tribal head about FGM.

    The traditional female society (Bondo) is a sacred institution where initiates are taught the loyal duty of marriage, motherhood, etc. And it is female genital mutilations that has caused a bad apple spoiling the good lot in the basket.

    I think that the Sowies must be educated about the right of the child, and should prevent the practice of female genital mutilation when the initiate is below 18 years old, while other sacred aspects of the initiation ceremony such as being a good housewife, etc, can be taught to the initiate.

    And as a consenting adult, the Sowies are being trained or guided by qualified health worker on how to go about the FGM during initiation as it done in South Africa.

    And for record purposes it will be nice to keep data of the number of times such ceremonies are held seasonally in each district and chiefdom in Sierra Leone, which can be vital for reference purposes and research purposes for the good of the communities in Sierra Leone.

  5. Foday Madama

    Unlike the clitoral organ, the male genitalia or penis is by no means cut off but only its foreskin, which covers and protects the glans penis and the urinary meatus.

    On the other hand, the clitoris is the human female’s ‘most sensitive erogenous zone’ and generally the primary anatomical source of human ‘female sexual pleasure.’ It is a small sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals at the anterior end of the vulva.

    Why chop it off, tamper with it or excise it? Let the public know your response, please!

    Even the Government of Sierra Leone has ratified the Mozambique Maputo Protocol, and is against initiating girls into NONSENSE Bondo for that matter. STOP LYING!

    See the following articles for your attention:

    1. “Rodgers 2003, pp. 92–93; O’Connell, Sanjeevan & Hutson 2005, pp. 1189–1195; Greenberg, Bruess & Conklin 2010, p. 95; Weiten, Dunn & Hammer 2011, p. 386: Carroll 2012, pp. 110–111, 252.”

    2. “Sierra Leone finally Ratifies Maputo Protocol on Women.”

  6. It’s time to put an end to this wicked and outdated tradition. Am all for culture but BONDO needs to end. Why cut something so sensitive and vital to women sexuality.

    Women have the same RIGHT as men to fully enjoy SEX. No wonder ‘borku Salone man get problem pan dem marade, bnecause borku uman dem nor able satisfy dem husband dem sexually’.

  7. Female circumcision is a tradition held dear by the girls and women of our society. Every girl who is circumcised is the daughter of a circumcised mother, who loves her daughter so much that she would defend her with her own life. For a mother to want her precious daughter circumcised, it is proof that the mother believes her own life has been enriched by the removal of her clitoris, so much that she will gladly put her daughter through the pain of the cutting.

    It is precisely because few adult women would willingly endure the great pain of having the clitoris removed that it must be done in childhood, at the behest of the girl’s mother.

    The clitoris is an ugly part, more male than female, that is not needed for a happy marriage and motherhood. Cutting it out helps girls develop self control and resist carnal temptations. It also forces us to become brave, enduring the pain without crying out prepares us for the pain of childbirth.

    I say this is a good tradition which must be preserved and encouraged.

  8. Thank you Mr Editor and Bravo to Mariama for your perspective on this important issue. You made a very good point by asking the Sierra Leonean women who have gone through these practices to come forward and tell their stories.

    But until then, all these claims of child mutilation, child abuse with all it passive cruelty do not have any place in a cultural tradition that has existed over thousands of years.

    If it is true to their ignorant campaign of nonsense for child abuse or child mutilation, which is not existing other than a traditional culture, why cant they include male children who also go through cutting of their sex organ?

    We are Africans and all these activities are part of our culture and it is not as harmful as misguided people are trying to portray it, just to please Europeans in return for coco-yebeh. I live and work in London where there is a law against such practices. With all the education and exposure of parents they still take their children outside UK to circumcise them.

    If other African countries ban it, it is on their own interest, but for Sierra Leone, Poro, Wondi, Bondo and Gbangbany etc. etc. these are very important in our communities for peace and cohesion. These cultural practices normally commence at the end of harvest season with a lot of community activities, the initiates are happy, their parents are happy and hardly hear of any trouble.

  9. Ms Mariama Dumbuya,

    Please see below the link of my reaction to your article on today’s FGM in Sierra Leone. Even if the case on Late Ms Fatmata Turay has been willfully closed, it must be REOPENED to bring the culprits, including President Ernest Koroma, Ms Sylvia Blyden and Dr, Owiss Koroma, to justice with immediate effect. For no one’s life is better than the other; everyone is equal before the Law and God. Amen.

    Thank you and have a great day.

    http://www.thesierraleonetelegraph.com/?p=13460

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