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.

7 Comments

  1. I would like to know whether the age of Fatamta Turay is really 19. I doubt that, because the family and soweis may be hiding the real age to escape repercussions if the young lady was less than 18 years old. Any proof please?

  2. Dear Sylvia Blyden ,

    You are a true Sierra Leonean and very much proud of your identity, which you are not about to trade for anything.

    You are displaying a unique type of courage which your boss the President lacks, in the face of senseless attacks which epitomises or displays your attackers’ lack of consciousness, putting them at the mercy of the sudden fancies of others, especially foreigners, who do not know anything about Sierra Leone’s social structure, involving many ethnic and tribal groups, each with their own unique way of doing things.

    This is the way things have functioned for centuries, with all the tribal or ethnic groups respecting each others’ uniqueness and, in fact enjoying it. It is a kind of equilibrium on which our dear country has thrived despite all our difficulties.

    Your leadership style depicts a desire to carry the majority with you all the time, in an effort to forestall disaffection, animosity, disgruntlement and bellicose inclination by those who may feel slighted.

    Whether you are conscious of it or not Sylvia, these are some of the bases for conflict within a nation, which could easily get out of hand, in the same way as the civil war we had, in which Foday Sancoh and his cohorts murdered and mutilated thousands of their countrymen and women. Their surrogates are all over the place waiting for the tiniest opportunity to start a civil conflict all over again.

    So by making the effort to consult all groups who are participants in the Bondo Society to enable your Ministry to come up with an acceptable policy, is commendable. Those who try to denigrate and vilify you for this, are in a mode of spatial disorientation, with nothing around to help them regain their bearing.

    These are the most dangerous members of society, who do not understand that Sierra Leone is an independent sovereign nation, although we have made a mess of things.

    I cannot agree with you more that no one should be forced into the Bondo Society, especially if they are under age. But here again, you seem to leave the door open for people to convince you otherwise. It shows respect for others, even though you may disagree with them eventually. This is what is called a national debate.

    I hope that President Koroma will come out at last to support you, not only for your stance on Bondo, but in your effort to clean up The Social Welfare Ministry too.

    I wish you Allah’s/God’s speed. Keep fighting.

    Santhkie Sorie.

  3. Ms Mariama Dumbuya,

    Having seen your lugubrious facial expression or oppressively somber mood and read your piece on FGM, whether to entirely eliminate the Bondo secret society practice or leave it in place for adult women above 17 years of age, I hereby categorically say, as a citizen, BAN it out-rightly for the following reasons:

    A. “Female Genital Mutilation occurs in non-Muslim societies in Africa and is practiced by Christians, Muslims and Animists alike. In Egypt, where perhaps 97 percent of girls suffer genital mutilation, both Christian Copts and Muslims are complicit. Thus, it has long been concluded to be a cultural practice, not connected to religion.

    However, on the village level, those who commit the practice offer a mix of cultural and religious reasons for the practice. Christians and Muslims alike believe that circumcision of girls prevents them from vice and makes them more attractive for future husbands; mothers fear that their daughters can’t get married if they have not been cut.

    Sometimes myths have formed to justify FGM. Hanny Lightfoot-Klein, an expert on FGM who spent years in Kenya, Egypt, and Sudan, explains that “it is believed in the Sudan that the clitoris will grow to the length of a goose’s neck until it dangles between the legs, in rivalry with the male’s penis, if it is not cut.”

    However, Muslim proponents of FGM also stress the religious necessity. Midwifes and mothers insist that it is “sunnah” – an opinion shared by most Islamic clerics. Yet, sunnah can either mean that a practice is religiously recommended or simply that it was done that way in the times of the prophet Mohammed.

    While there is NO mention of FGM in the Quran, a Hadith (saying about the life of the prophet) recounts a debate between Muhammed and Um Habibah (or Um ‘Atiyyah). This woman, known as an exciser of female slaves, was one of a group of women who had immigrated with Muhammed. Having seen her, Muhammad asked her if she kept practicing her profession. She answered affirmatively, adding: “unless it is forbidden, and you order me to stop doing it.” Muhammed replied: “Yes, it is allowed. Come closer so I can teach you: if you cut, do not overdo it, because it brings more radiance to the face, and it is more pleasant for the husband.”

    Most clerics use this hadith to say circumcision is recommended, but not obligatory for women. But some say it is obligatory. While others who take a position against FGM call this hadith “weak” in relation to the “do no harm” principle of Islam or interpret the intention of the prophet differently.

    An often heard interpretation is: “Islam condones the sunnah circumcision … What is forbidden in Islam is the pharaonic circumcision,” like Sheikh Omer from Ethiopia explained in an interview with IRIN. Others, such as the late rector of Al-Azhar University, Sheikh Gad al-Haq, said that since the Prophet did not ban female circumcision, it was permissible and, at the very least, could not be banned.

    In Egypt this position “has long been overturned” by Al-Azhar Sheikhs. Today, the Grand Mufti of Egypt Ali Gomar says: “The practice must be STOPPED in support of one of the highest values of Islam, namely ‘to do no harm to another’ – in accordance with the commandment of the Prophet Mohammed “Accept no harm and do no harm to another.”

    This is echoed by many other Islamic scholars who have released Fatwas against FGM, however, the mainstream opinion still seems to be what the Grand Mufti of Oman Ahmed Al Khalili replied when asked for an opinion by an activist: “Even though it’s not an operation you must perform on women, we can’t describe it as a crime against women or as a violation of women’s rights.”

    See the complete article on “Religion or Culture” at:

    [1] Hanny Lightfoot-Klein. “Prisoners of Ritual: Some Contemporary Developments in the History of Female Genital Mutilation,” presented at the Second International Symposium on Circumcision in San Francisco, Apr. 30-May 3, 1991.

    [2] Sami A. Aldeeb Abu Sahlieh, “To Mutilate in the Name of Jehovah or Allah: Legitimization of Male and Female Circumcision,” Medicine and Law, July 1994, pp. 575-622.

    B. FGM is the deliberate and intentional mutilation of female genitalia. This is often the removal or cutting of the labia and clitoris. The World Health Organization (WHO), of which Sierra Leone is a member, describes FGM as any procedure that “injures” the female genital organs for “non-medical reasons.”

    Immediate complications can include:

    shock; severe pain; excessive bleeding (haemorrhage); genital tissue swelling; fever; infections e.g. tetanus; urinary problems; wound healing problems; injury to surrounding genital tissue; death.

    Long-term consequences can include:

    urinary problems (painful urination, urinary tract infections); vaginal problems (discharge, itching, bacterial vaginosis and other infections); menstrual problems (painful menstruations, difficulty in passing menstrual blood, etc.); scar tissue and keloid; sexual problems i.e. dyspareunia (pain during intercourse, decreased satisfaction, etc.); increased risk of childbirth complications (difficult delivery, excessive bleeding, caesarean section (C-section), need to resuscitate the baby, etc.) and newborn deaths; need for later surgeries: for example, the FGM procedure that seals or narrows a vaginal opening (type 3) needs to be cut open later to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth (de-infibulation).

    Sometimes genital tissue is stitched again several times, including after childbirth, hence the woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures, further increasing both immediate and long-term risks;
    psychological problems (depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, low self-esteem, etc.).

    See “WHO | Female genital mutilation.”

    C. My Dear, male circumcision is biblical and does NOT require the cutting of the “organ penis, like the clitoris,” but only the foreskin. It is NOT about making ‘Eunuchs’ by chopping off the male sexual organ, the penis.

    Remember that it was NOT so in the beginning. For God NEVER asked father Abraham to have his wife, Sarah, circumcised. And the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ, Mary, who is arabically called Mariama, was NEVER female genitally mutilated.

    See “Genesis 17: The Covenant of Circumcision.” New International Version (NIV).

    Lastly, everything done today is under the control of the ‘Devil aka Satan.’ For the whole world is under his control.

    See the Bible “1 John 5:19,20.” NIV.

    May God open our eyes to know the whole TRUTH, and have mercy upon us all. Amen.

    http://cocorioko.net/the-case-of-fgm-in-sierra-leone-the-case-of-fgm-in-sierra-leone-to-ban-or-not-to-ban/

  4. What I find very disgusting, reprehensible and repulsive about secret societies, especially ‘Poro or Wondei Mia’ with fetish marks etched either on the back, chest or forehead of the initiate, is the level of sexual immorality perpetrated against their women at home.

    For a legally married woman becomes the wife of every member of the society. And anyone of them can have sexual intercourse with her without repercussions. As a result, therefore, the number of illegitimate children in the country is beyond belief on DNA analysis.

    For us to move forward as a country, both Poro and Bondo traditional practices must STOP. Or else we will remain backward forever and make no progress whatsoever. God forbid that from happening.

    May they repent of their evil deeds and come out of darkness. And may the Lord God Almighty have mercy on them. Amen.

    On Poro and Sande see “Culture and customs of Liberia, by Ayodeji Olukoju, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006, p. 25.”

  5. Ekundayo Pratt,

    As an addendum, I must say that it is NOT for the women of Sierra Leone to first see the irrelevance and insignificance of this generational old female circumcision before banning the crude and inhumane practice, but up to the men to act now and stop it. Any woman who has survived the Bondo initiation is by a 50/50 percent chance of living with its harrowing consequences, including the following:

    complications during childbirth, anemia, the formation of cysts and abscesses, keloid scar formation, damage to the urethra resulting in urinary incontinence, dyspareunia (painful sexual intercourse), sexual dysfunction, hypersensitivity of the genital area and increased risk of HIV.

    “Thus FGM is an integral part of a rite of passage from ‘childhood to womanhood.’ This being the case, nearly all genital mutilation is performed by traditional circumcisers.”

    See the following articles and upgrade yourself on FGM in West Africa:

    1. “Female genital mutilation/cutting in The Gambia: long-term health consequences and complications during delivery and for the newborn.”

    2. Female Genital Mutilation in Sierra Leone – GIZ

    I have no doubt that wicked men will frown at these research findings and do absolutely nothing for the well-being and safety of the girl-child and woman of Sierra Leone. But,

    “There is no peace, says my God, for the wicked.” Isaiah 57:21 (NIV). Amen.

  6. Ekundayo Pratt,

    I’m NOT going to engage you in insults and stone throwing at each other. Not at all. For we’ve past that stage very longtime ago. Please don’t be so hateful and angry with me, like Sanballat in Nehemiah 4, and quickly forget the focal point of our nationwide campaign, which is to put an END to female circumcision aka FGM either by choice or LIFE in Sierra Leone.

    Of course, this is NOT about imperialism or neocolonialism, but precautionary measures of safety and LIFE.

    Thank you for your comprehension and understanding on this issue. Amen.

    NB: This is how to spell “Isaiah” and NOT “Issiah.”

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