By: R. Joycelyn Wea

Monrovia-Feb-5-TNR: Liberia on Tuesday, February 6, joined the global community in observance of the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Lofa County, one of the biggest counties in the land is now set to end the harmful traditional practices against women and young girls in that part of the country.

This will bring the number to five counties to conduct traditional ceremonies to ban FGM and close bush schools in the country, after many years of convincing traditional leaders to root out this part of the Liberian culture.

When this happens, it means that women and girls in the area will be initiated without mutilation and can enroll in the Sandi (bush school) at their will, as done in all four counties where the practice is banned.

Globally, more than 200 million girls and women have undergone FGM, a practice that involves the removal or injury of external female genital organs for non-medical reasons.  It is a violation of human rights, causing irreversible physical and psychological harm to millions of girls and women across various communities.

Important progress has been made in eliminating FGM globally and in Liberia. Exactly, a year ago, on 6 February 2023, the National Council of Chiefs and Elders of Liberia (NACCEL), made a historic proclamation to ban the practice of FGM in Liberia. Since then, traditional ceremonies to effectively enforce the ban on FGM have been conducted in four out of 11 FGM-practicing counties in Liberia, namely Montserrado, Grand Cape Mount, Nimba, and Bong counties.

Liberia also signaled its commitment to ending FGM during the global convening of world leaders and women’s rights activists at the Generation Equality Forum in Paris in 2021, where Liberia pledged to pursue efforts to end Gender Violence and became a signatory to the collective commitment to eradicating harmful practices, including FGM.

To date, over 800 former traditional practitioners of FGM are benefitting from alternative economic livelihoods programs such as climate-smart agriculture, and business and vocational skills training with support from the European Union, United Nations, and Government of Liberia Spotlight Initiative.

This year’s event will take place under the theme, ‘Her voice; Her future; Investing in Survivor-Led Movements to End Female Genital Mutilation.’

The theme calls for increasing survivors’ space for voicing out against the practice to protect girls at risk of being subjected to FGM.  

This year’s commemoration of the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM will be held at the Vezela Vocational and Heritage Centre in Lofa County. Several activities are lined up to mark the anti-FGM Day including, traditional ceremonies to close bush schools and enforce the ban on FGM by NACCEL with technical support from the Liberia Crusaders For Peace and the official handover of the Vezela Heritage Centre to the Government of Liberia.

The Vezela Center is one of the four vocational and heritage centers established by UN Women with funding from the European Union and the United Nations through the Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women, and harmful practices and promote sexual and reproductive health and rights. Vocational and heritage centers provide dedicated learning space to teach former FGM traditional practitioners new skills to enable them to pursue alternative sources of income to replace FGM. Other heritage centers are located in Grand Cape Mount, Montserrado, and Nimba counties.

As we observe the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, UN Women commends the traditional leaders and communities for their unwavering commitment to ending FGM in Liberia and embracing the concept of ‘initiation without mutilation’ which upholds positive cultural practices as part of the rites of passage of young girls, whilst eliminating FGM.

“Although progress has been made in eliminating FGM, Liberia is one of only three counties in the region yet to outlaw FGM,” says Comfort Lamptey, UN Women Liberia Country Representative.

“We call on all stakeholders to continue ensuring collective commitment to ending this harmful practice and ensuring the fundamental rights and dignity of women and girls are realized. We call on lawmakers to ensure that the FGM Bill that is currently before the legislature is passed into law.”

UN Women is supporting the Government of Liberia and NACCEL to commemorate FGM Day and to conduct bush school closure events with funding from the Government of Sweden.

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