Sierra Leone respects the right of consenting adults to choose – says minister Blyden

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 11 July 2016

President Koroma welcomes Sylvia Blyden

Since her appointment as minister of social welfare, gender and children’s affairs early this year, there have been immense debate and speculation as to how Dr Sylvia Blyden would handle the controversial issue of female circumcision.

Would she be swayed by the vociferous campaign led by western governments and their international agencies calling for the outright banning of female circumcision in Africa; or would she stand by her usual, dogged single-mindedness that drives her politics, which she consistently and broadly describe as libertarianism and the championing of women’s rights?

The issue of female circumcision is arguably one of the most polarised and poisonous debates taking place in Africa today. It has divided families, communities and religious faiths.

In Sierra Leone, it is unclear where president Koroma stands on the issue. But his former social welfare minister was clear about his position on the matter. “Sierra Leone will not ban female circumcision,” he said.

So where does the current social welfare minister – Dr Blyden stand on female circumcision?

Speaking last week to a large gathering of international development agencies, NGOs and dignitaries, attending the biennial general meeting of the women’s rights campaigning 50/50 Group, held at the British Council Hall in Freetown, she could not have been clearer. This is what she said:

Dr Sylvia O Blyden2“Madam Chairperson, ladies and gentlemen, before I end this address, I want to highlight and focus attention on the issue of what is widely considered as a harmful traditional practice and this is what we now reference by the acronym of FGM (Female Genital Mutilation).

I am going to speak on it both from the point of the trained and fully qualified medical doctor that I am, as well as from the point of a female Gender Activist.

 FGM evokes mixed feelings because of the very obvious medical repercussions that can result from it including Vesico-Vaginal Fistula which can leave a woman so affected that she has to live a life of grave misery.

Such fistulas can be a result of scarring around the genital area which complicates childbirth and damages the wall between the vagina and anal cavity. The scarring in many cases have been linked to be as a result of badly performed FGM.

For such reasons, many people frown upon FGM especially as FGM can be forcefully undertaken on young girls creating huge psychological trauma they suffer for the rest of their lives.

 It is because of such reasons that the United Nations urges all States to work towards ending such forceful mutilations and initiations.

Bondo3Here in Sierra Leone, although there is currently no law that explicitly prohibits the practice, the government of His Excellency President Koroma remains committed and is encouraging awareness raising and advocacy around the issue.

In addition, laws that prohibit cruelty and torture, especially against the girl child, can be applied to those who forcefully subject Sierra Leonean females to cutting of their anatomical parts.

I repeat, under this government, the laid down laws and statutory provisions which prohibit cruelty and torture, especially against the girl child, are going to be applied to those who think they can forcefully subject Sierra Leonean females to traumatic cutting of their anatomical parts.

 Within the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment pillar of the Agenda for Prosperity (Pillar 8), there is a strong commitment to enact a law that criminalize forceful initiation which by definition will include children under the age of 18 years who cannot be considered as legally able to make such decisions involving optional plastic surgery to their anatomy.

Additionally, a National Strategy for the Reduction of FGM/C (2016-2020) is being developed.

However, and this is very important, the aspect of total banning of the practice is something that we have to critically reconsider as against the right of an adult woman to elect to undertake surgical exercise on her genitals.

In Western countries, their women choose to willingly undergo cutting and re-shaping of their genital parts and no-one prohibits them from undertaking what are known in medical terms as LABIAPLASTY or CLITORIDOTOMY.

These two are surgical procedures that cut the labia and cut or re-shape the clitoris of women. In other words, mutilation of their genitals.

Therefore, the insistence from some quarters for an “elimination” of what they term as “female genital mutilation” is, I daresay, an exhibition of tunnel vision.

Those proponents have to start thinking outside the box. If an adult Sierra Leone woman opts to follow the traditions of her female ancestors and willingly elects to have her genitals cut or re-sized, I will respect her right to do what she wants to do with her body.

When you can get the United States of America, Great Britain and other Western countries to ban or eliminate labiaplasty and clitoridotomy (i.e: mutilation of their genitals) amongst adult women in those Western countries, then you can come to Sierra Leone and get us to ban such among our adult women who seek to have such.

Minister of childrens affairs - Dr Sylvia BlydenHaving said that, let me reiterate the position of the Government of Sierra Leone, that based upon the Memorandum of Understanding that has been signed by Traditional Leaders and FGM practitioners to stop under age initiations and female genital mutilations, this government will heavily clamp down on any Sowei or Practitioner who forces a girl child under the age of 18 years to undergo cutting of her anatomical parts against her will.

Already, I have held series of meetings with the leadership of the National Sowei Council and they have assured me that no child will be initiated.

Recently, a series of reports of forceful initiation of girl children in certain parts of the country, had no less entities than the National Sowei Council take the lead in supporting the law enforcement agencies to undertake investigations into the matter.

I continue to remain very proud of our Soweis, Digbas and Bondo Women of Sierra Leone. And I urge all women to step up to the plate and support Bondo Women, as we all work to protect our female children from various forms of violence.” (End of speech).

Loathe or like her style of politics, many of her supporters and admirers will today argue that based on her decision to stand for civil liberty and women’s right to choose, while at the same time upholding and protecting the right of the child, Dr Sylvia Blyden’s speech is set to shape incoming legislation and government policy on female circumcision.

Sierra Leone is a society deeply rooted in cultural and traditional practices, and it seems the minister has the support of the majority of people in the country.

10 Comments

  1. My word – Foday Sillah, you wrote for me, and together we give Sylvia Blyden a standing ovation. Sylvia knows who she is, and is not about to be pushed around by anybody. What makes her all the more unique is that she is intensely conscious of what obtains in other parts of the world – particularly the Western World.

    Now her boss – the President, can hide behind her, since he is always timid on controversial issues, preferring his ministers to be on the front line. This is what the likes of the former communication minister – Alpha Kanu, saw and took full advantage of. Alpha Kanu had a tendency to speak first before thinking – a very poor quality to have as the mouth piece of the government.

    Let us be ready Foday. Those on the other side of the debate are readying their missiles and bombs to blast us and Sylvia Blyden to pieces, for just standing up for who we are and apologising to no one for it.

    Bondo is is here to stay, until we as a people decide otherwise. Be ready Foday. I can already hear the missiles triggering off!

  2. Now that Mamie “Haja” Sylvia Olayinka Blyden and goofy Fuambai Sia Ahmadu have been busted in their willful attempt to twist the debate on permanently banning female circumcision in Sierra Leone, let me make the following known to everybody from God’s word on ancient days to date:

    1. “To the woman he said, I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give
    birth to children. ‘Your desire will be for your husband,’ and he will rule over you.” Genesis 3:16 (NIV)

    2. “Then when the king’s edict is proclaimed throughout all his vast realm, ‘all the women will respect their
    husbands,’ from the least to the greatest.” Esther 1:20 (NIV).

    3. “The wife does ‘not have authority over her own body’ but yields it to her husband.” 1Corinthians 7:4 a (NIV).

    Based upon these scriptures, therefore, a woman does not have the right to make any alterations and tamper with her body parts anyhow, including her clitoris. It is satanic and unbiblical to do so. There are very serious curses and negative consequences to violate God’s Law.

    FEAR GOD AND OBEY HIS COMMANDMENTS WHICH WERE NEITHER VIOLATED BY FATHER ABRAHAM’S WIFE, SARAH, NOR BY JOSEPH’S WIFE, MARY, THE MOTHER OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.

  3. Let me throw a wrench or spanner in the Bondo female circumcision debate currently ongoing in the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs of Sierra Leone.

    Physical circumcision of the genital (foreskin) is “non western” and has got nothing to do with its modern day civilization. It is a blatant LIE from a confused mind to think that way. Therefore, its association with western civilization is illogical and baloney or foolish talk.

    Furthermore, here are some excerpts of Dr. Fuambai Sia Ahmadu made on February 8, 2016, about female circumcision in Sierra Leone. She was interviewed by The Sierra Leone Telegraph’s Washington correspondent Dennis Kabatto (DK) on it as follows:

    “We are ‘not here to spread female circumcision in the US or anywhere in the world.’ Our key mission is to create awareness about the negative psychosocial and psychosexual impact of harmful anti-FGM campaigns, legislation and global policies…

    AWAFC is also concerned with creating dialogue on ways to preserve the rights of all affected adult women and adolescent girls to their own bodies, to self-determination and to equality with other adult women and adolescent girls worldwide…

    I also lean on believing his sincerity, when he says this practice is ‘not sanctioned by Islam’ and that he is genuinely concerned about the ‘health implications for girls and women’…

    A Gambian friend recently told me that what we will see is an end to the open celebrations (similar to what is happening now in Kenya), but ‘the operations will continue.’..

    This most certainly means that ‘girls will be circumcised at younger and younger ages,’ and that their health and lives will be at the mercy of greedy quacks instead of ‘highly trained traditional circumcisers or medical practitioners’…

    DK: UNICEF estimates 24 out of 29 countries where FGM is practiced have passed laws against it. Do you think it would be outlawed in Sierra Leone?

    ‘Absolutely not’ and we will certainly ‘lobby hard’ against this new form of ‘neocolonialism’ in Sierra Leone. What is the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) going to do, lock up 80% of the population of women?

    Are the predominantly male policemen going to arrest their grandmothers, mothers, sisters, wives and so on?

    The Minister of Gender and Social Welfare, Hon. Moijueh Kaikai, stated unequivocally to a group of Soweis that Bondo will ‘not be banned in Sierra Leone’…

    I have always said, Sierra Leone is ‘the ground zero’ where modern western feminism meets ‘the power of ancient Bondo society.’ As you can see, I’ve placed my bets on Bondo.”

    See “Female circumcision – women must have the right to choose– says Dr. Fuambai Sia Ahmadu.”

    It’s the same piece of information that has been deliberately plagiarized and voiced out by “Haja” Sylvia Olayinka Blyden and now shoving it down our throats to swallow. That’s not going to happen.

    Like the wife of President Ernest Koroma, Mrs. Sia Nyama Koroma, Fuambai Sia Ahmadu is a Kono woman too.

    Yes, birds of the same feather flock together. But, they will not achieve their ungodly Bondo objective among the people of Sierra Leone. Far from it.

    Remember that in 1996, the Late Patricia Kabbah had to supervise the forceful abduction of an adult woman into Bondo. The woman later took the matter to court in Freetown, but to no avail. God being the living witness and overseer of all of us divinely intervened. End of story.

    That same God is still alive today. He is the same yesterday and today and forever. He is immutable and does not change for anyone. Hebrews 13:8 (NIV). Amen.

  4. I commend the stance of the Sylvia Olayinka Blyden on the current debate on what the West describes as “Female Genital Mutilation”, rather than non Western label of ” Female Circumcision ” – a tradition, culture and institution, which in the past forms part of the socio-cultural systems of Sierra Leone, where Patriarchy was the order of the day.

    The role of women was limited or non existence in Society. So the only way women expressed themselves was to organise themselves in institutions that were centred on training young women, through the passage of rights where they learned social skills that will help them later in their adulthood.

    But our so called enlightened or misinformed brothers who have found themselves and heard this negative narratives about cultures which are not Western are referring to this as primitive, barbaric, uncivilised, backward, etc.

    This has always been the narrative in discussing issues through Western perspectives. For instance, in the West we have seen people piercing, carving or sticking sharp implements into their body parts, such as tongue, genital, eyes, anal, belly button. Yet none of these practices are considered to be “mutilation”. What an irony.

    Looking at the two examples highlighted above, explains why non-western cultures are interpreted the same way as those considered as “others”.

    I feel proud of the Social Welfare minister and her stance in challenging this Western narrative. It is a bold step.

    Well done Sylvia.

  5. Jennifer Roberts,

    Let me hold your your feet to the fire on what you just wrote about the women of Sierra Leone. While you may not be interested in running commentaries here on The Sierra Leone Telegraph or elsewhere, however, I have a couple of questions as follows that need clarifications.

    In your third paragraph below, you said:

    “When they came to Africa with the Bible in one hand and the gun in the other, telling us that the Bible is good for us, they did not tell us that they were ‘not’ living by the precepts of the Bible. What double standards?”

    Who are you referring to as “they,” and “us?”

    Additionally, in your opening statement you mentioned the imposition of neo-colonialism-the use of economic, political, cultural, or other pressures to control or influence a country- and western dictat on our people in Sierra Leone. Are you saying this out of a raging anger that the Mozambique Maputo “Protocol to the ‘African Charter’ on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa,” must only be implemented on girls below 18 yrs of age and not extended to adult women?

    As a man of God, I have a problem with your mentality and thinking ability. For I totally disagree with you on this.

    Remember that very recently the country was hugely ravaged by a health hazard called Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), and all Bondo practices were halted or stopped. I see that as a divine warning from God. That is the absolute TRUTH. You can believe it or not.

    All she is saying, with her eyes winking, is that:

    BONDO IS FOR D ‘KONTRI PIPUL.’ YOU CAN GO AHEAD AND HACK OFF YOUR GOD GIVEN CLITORISES.

    That is a lie and deception from the Devil aka Satan and Lucifer.

    Physical circumcision- the cutting of the ‘foreskin’ of a young boy or man- of the genital was meant ONLY for men and not women.

    “This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every ‘male’ among you shall be circumcised.”

    See “The Covenant of Circumcision” given by the Almighty God to father Abraham. Genesis 17:10 (NIV).

    This Covenant did not include Mother Sarah to have her clitoris excised or chopped off at all. For it is a sensitive and delicate sexual organ or viscus, with the ‘collection’ of tissues joined in a structural ‘unit’ to serve a common function; whereas the ‘foreskin’ covers and protects the glans penis and the urinary meatus; it is not an “organ” like the clitoris.

    See “Human Physiology (12th ed.)”

    While it is your right to do whatever you want to your body, but hear the word of the Lord Jesus as follows:

    “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

    For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

    Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.”

    See “God’s Wrath Against Sinful Humanity” Romans 1:18-25 (NIV).

  6. She is 100% right. For once, I and Ms Blyden are on the same page. Judging African practices from a purely western paradigm is foolish. Women have the right to choose what they do with their bodies, it is not for the United Nations or western governments to decide.

    Bondo is a female traditional institution that was started to educate young girls about rites of passage, such as marriage and child bearing. trying to westernize and end these institutions is an acknowledgement of inferiority complex that many Africans have.

    We should reform our institutions and make them work for our times. But to throw them away because they are alien to other people is sad. Grown women have every right to choose, and those who force young girls into such acts should be punished.

    But when does this interference stop?

    Many young males are circumcised (mutilated) at a tender age. Should they also wait till they are 18 at a time when the process is so painful? EBK’s government is absolutely correct on this issue.

    What should happen is that women should receive some training on how they should carry out these surgeries, so as to minimize damage. But we cannot remove the woman’s right to choose.

  7. Thank you Dr Sylvia Olayinka Blyden for standing up against neo-colonialism and the imposition of western dictat on our people. Let the people of Sierra Leone take responsibility for their own destiny. And thank you also for protecting the right of the child not to be subjected to harm.

    What westerners do to their body parts is not my concern, and they should feel the same about us. They subject their own children to painful gender reassignment surgeries and see nothing repugnant about that. Yet they have the temerity to tell our women that what they do to their body is wrong?

    When they came to Africa with the Bible in one hand and the gun in the other, telling us that the Bible is good for us, they did not tell us that they were not living by the precepts of the Bible. What double standards?

    Please leave us to get on with our lives. We will protect the rights of the child. But what adults do to themselves is a matter for their own conscience, as long as their choices do not impinge upon the rights of others.

    Dear editor, this is my view and I will not be taking part in running commentaries here or elsewhere. Others are entitled to their own opinions.

  8. Madam Sylvia Olayinka Blyden,

    On March 15, 2016 at 3:41 am, this is what I wrote and posted on The Sierra Leone Telegraph:

    “I don’t know what to say about these new appointments by an ‘incompetent and lame duck President Ernest Koroma.’ But, I certainly look forward to the demise and END of all Bondo activities under Sylvia Olayinka Blyden as Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs by fully implementing the Mozambique Maputo Protocol, which Moijueh Kaikai failed to do in Sierra Leone. May God help ‘The Land That We Love’ move out of secret societies, including Bondo. Amen.”

    MADAM MINISTER, WHY ARE YOU PLAYING A DOUBLE STANDARD ON THE TOTAL ELIMINATION OF BONDO PRACTICES IN SIERRA LEONE? ARE YOU AFRAID TO TAKE THE BONDO BULL BY THE HORNS?

    I call it a double standard because you are unfairly applying the agreed upon Mozambique Maputo Protocol, which was unanimously ratified by the Parliament and Government of Sierra Leone on July 2, 2015. Your Awareness Times Newspaper, of which you are its publisher, reported it on July 3, 2015 as follows:

    “Sierra Leone finally Ratifies Maputo Protocol on Women,” by Sheku Turay.

    Under Article 1 Definitions of that Protocol, it says that:

    g. “Harmful Practices” means all behaviour, attitudes and/or practices which negatively affect the fundamental rights of women and girls, such as their right to life, health, dignity, education and physical integrity;

    See “Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.”

    When you say that:

    “In Western countries, their women choose to willingly undergo cutting and re-shaping of their genital parts and no-one prohibits them from undertaking what are known in medical terms as LABIAPLASTY or CLITORIDOTOMY.

    These two are surgical procedures that cut the labia and cut or re-shape the clitoris of women. In other words, mutilation of their genitals.

    Therefore, the insistence from some quarters for an “elimination” of what they term as “female genital mutilation” is, I daresay, an exhibition of tunnel vision.

    Those proponents have to start thinking outside the box. If an adult Sierra Leone woman opts to follow the traditions of her female ancestors and willingly elects to have her genitals cut or re-sized, I will ‘respect’ her right to do what she wants to do with her body.

    When you can get “to” the United States of America, Great Britain and other Western countries to ban or eliminate labiaplasty and clitoridotomy (i.e: mutilation of their genitals) amongst adult women in those Western countries, then you can come to Sierra Leone and get us to ban such among our adult women who seek to have such.”

    Well, I am in the United States of America. You are the one that needs to be told of exhibiting a very limited, defected and marred tunnel vision. You are a woman, but narrow minded on female cultural and traditional practices, including the repercussions of Bondo on the health of our people in Sierra Leone. Shame on you!

    Bondo has got nothing in relation to labioplasty. They are both incompatible and unrelated. For Bondo is the hacking off, chopping or tampering of ONLY the clitoris at any age without a medical reason, and labioplasty is the surgical specialty involving the restoration, reconstruction, or alteration of the human body.

    Madam Minister, you are either in support to completely ban or outlaw Bondo nationwide without any age limit, like in other West African states such as Nigeria, The Gambia, etc. or not at all, which is irreligious with lasting negative health consequences on females of our country. Even death.

    “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions. And he continued, You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” Mark 7:8,9 (NIV).

    A word to the wise is quite sufficient. Amen.

    FGM/C IN THE UNITED STATES: LEGAL, PROGRAMMATIC, AND POLICY RESPONSES

    Since 1996, there have been specific federal criminal penalties for performing FGM/C in the United States on any minor younger than 18 years old, including fines or up to five years in prison, or both (118 U.S.C. § 116(a). In 2013, Congress criminalized the knowing transportation of a girl younger than 18 years old outside of the United States for the purpose of performing FGM/C (so-called “vacation cutting”) (118 U.S.C. § 116(d)). The Department of Justice (DOJ) maintains a hotline where people can anonymously report violations or potential violations of the FGM/C statute. Numerous U.S. states have also criminalized the practice. DOJ will develop and disseminate a newsletter to U.S. Attorney’s Offices providing guidance regarding investigations and prosecutions using the FGM/C statute.

    FGM/C GLOBALLY: POLICY, PROGRAMMING, AND DIPLOMATIC RESPONSES

    The U.S. commitment to ending FGM/C is rooted in efforts to protect and advance the rights of women and girls globally. The U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally, launched in August 2012, specifically recognizes FGM/C as a harmful practice. The United States also supports efforts to end FGM/C in humanitarian settings and among refugees with a range of programming. The United States recently strengthened the reporting on this issue in its Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which now include information on whether FGM/C is prevalent, the type and category of genital cutting most common, as well as international and governmental efforts being taken to address the practice.

    The United States is working to foster constructive legal and policy frameworks by supporting host country legislation against the practice of FGM/C; participating in the FGM Donors Working Group to discuss donor coordination and best practices to eliminate FGM/C; and engaging civil society through social media and public outreach to spotlight the work being done to educate and invest in girls, a key to preventing FGM/C.

    Through the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the United States supports community-based programming to raise awareness on the harmful effects of FGM/C in regions where the practice is prevalent. This approach includes supporting the Nairobi Center of Excellence, which seeks to improve health care for girls and women suffering negative consequences from FGM/C and to promote broader education and dissemination of information on the harmful effects of FGM/C. The State Department and USAID are launching a new program dedicated to addressing this issue in Guinea, partnering with the Government of Guinea and with multilateral and civil society actors to work to eliminate the practice in Guinea’s eight districts – impacting up to 65,000 girls through community awareness and capacity- building efforts. From 2011-2013, the State Department supported the development of seven FGM/C free villages in Kurdistan, through grassroots development and increased awareness regarding the health and economic consequences of FGM/C. A new Gender-based Violence Emergency Response and Protection Initiative is dedicated to assisting survivors of extreme forms of gender-based violence.

  9. Cutting male and female genitals are similar. 1) They are unnecessary, extremely painful, and traumatic. 2) They can have adverse sexual and psychological effects. 3) They are generally done by force on children. 4) They are generally supported by local medical doctors. 5) Pertinent biological facts are not generally known where procedures are practiced. 6) They are defended with reasons such as tradition, religion, aesthetics, cleanliness, and health. These reasons are used to mask the compulsion to repeat the trauma, a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. 7) The rationale has currently or historically been connected to controlling sexual pleasure. 8) They are often believed to have no effect on normal sexual functioning. 9) They are generally accepted and supported by those who have been subjected to them. 10) Those who are cut have a compulsion to repeat their trauma on their children. 11) The choice may be motivated by underlying psychosexual reasons. 12) Critical public discussion is generally taboo where the procedures are practiced. 13) They can result in serious complications that can lead to death. 14) The adverse effects are hidden by repression and denial. 15) Dozens of potentially harmful physiological, emotional, behavioral, sexual, and social effects on individuals and societies have never been studied. 16) On a qualitative level, cutting the genitals of male and female children are the same. The harm starts with the first cut, any cut. 17) The decision is generally controlled by men though women may be supportive.18) They violate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. 19) They generally exist together. 20) To stop one, we must stop both. Then we may better develop toward our individual and social potential. May courage overcome conformity.

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