13 June 2014

Ending female genital mutilation in Sierra Leone

As representatives from 123 countries, the United Nations and other international organisations, faith leaders, military leaders, lawyers, activists and survivors of sexual violence gather in London for the global summit to end sexual violence in conflict, we are pleased to launch our new research report “Country Profile: FGM in Sierra Leone”.

Sierra Leone was torn apart during a decade long civil war from 1992 to 2002 during which tens of thousands died and many more were left injured and bereaved.  In addition many women and girls were abducted, brutally raped during the war and even forced to take up arms. Since the end of the war Sierra Leone has made much progress but still faces many challenges from the conflict as well as having to overcome harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage.

FGM is widespread in Sierra Leone and the estimated prevalence of FGM in girls and women (15-49 years) is 89.6% (DHS, 2013). The practice is closely associated with membership of secret women’s societies known as Bondo and is a deeply entrenched part of the initiation ceremonies for girls to join a Bondo society and attain womanhood. The Bondo wield considerable political power and influence and FGM is regarded as a taboo subject in Sierra Leone which makes tackling it very challenging. However, there has been an increased focus on human rights since the end of the war and there is a growing number of activists and organisations who are working to support those affected by FGM and to bring about the end of the practice in Sierra Leone.

28 Too Many’s country profile is designed to bring together relevant information on FGM for all those with an interest in tackling this issues in Sierra Leone and also in the many communities who fled during the war and now live in other countries. The report shows that increased awareness of the health risks of FGM, education for girls and women, involving men and boys in initiatives to end the practice, retraining Soweis (traditional cutters) to carry our Bondo initiation without cutting and supporting women’s empowerment can all help bring about a change of attitude and encourage the abandonment of this unnecessary and harmful practice.

We hope this new research helps those working against FGM in Sierra Leone and internationally to make faster progress and bring about a lasting change. We are grateful to fellow campaigners for supporting our work and sharing their thoughts on how we can make progress towards the eradication of FGM.

 “28 Too Many's recent research not only provides us with historical insight on the outdated practice of FGM/C in Sierra Leone.  It illustrates that change can and is happening as communities adopt better practices of initiating girls into womanhood. Sharing these positive case studies in and outside Sierra Leone will be an important way of educating and training others to adopt change that can and will improve their communities. There is still much work to be done as change does take time. But, it gives me confidence and hope that with further commitment and support from campaigners, policy makers and government that FGM/C can be completely eradicated.” Jay Kamara-Frederick, award winning marketer, branding coach, founder of Red Lipstick Day and human rights campaigner 

“28 Too Many’s report on FGM in Sierra Leone is quite apt in its analysis on Sierra Leone, which is intrinsically entrenched in mythical and traditional practices when it comes to the cutting of female Sierra Leoneans.  We believe that re-educating society on the irrational culture surrounding this age-old practice and its emotional, psychological and physiological corollaries will not only save lives but also change lives.  Our charity, educates, mentors, supports and empowers females whose limbs were mutilated and amputated by rebels during the civil war and who have also undergone FGM before and after their unfortunate amputation.  Their unique challenges require extensive counselling and education as these women have been ‘mutilated inside out’ and need more support compared to their able-bodied counterparts. However we are optimistic that education and access to information are insecticides against FGM worldwide, through this tool we will reduce and one day eradicate this absurd tradition.” Faith Okrafo-Smart, Founder of Melqosh Mission International

28 Too Many researches FGM and campaigns to end the practice in the 28 African countries where it is practised and across the global diaspora. You can support our work by donating to fund our research and keep up to date with our progress by liking our page on Facebook and following us on Twitter.