10 December 2014

Will Ebola help or hinder the fight against FGM in Liberia?


  • New research shows approx. half of girls and women in Liberia undergo FGM
  • Prior to Ebola the practice appeared to be in decline amongst younger age groups
  • Despite a ban on Sande initiations involving FGM during the Ebola outbreak there are reports that some initiations are continuing
  • There is no law against FGM in Liberia and anti-FGM programmes need to be implemented as the country rebuilds after Ebola


During 2014 Liberia has been devastated by the Ebola outbreak which according to the World Health Organisation has resulted in more than 17,000 cases and 6,000 deaths in West Africa. Over 3,100 deaths had been reported in Liberia by the beginning of December. The incidence of Ebola cases in Liberia now appears to be stabilising but the situation remains very serious and the full impact of the outbreak on Liberian society is only just beginning to be understood.

New research by 28 Too Many on FGM in Liberia, where an estimated 49.8% of girls and women aged 15-49 have had FGM, reveals that the practice appears to have been declining amongst younger women prior to the Ebola outbreak. The latest Demographic Health Surveys (DHS, 2013) show that the percentage of women who have been initiated into Sande (and therefore have had FGM) has fallen among younger age cohorts; in the cohort aged 20—24, the rate fell from 58.4% in 2007 to 39.8% in 2013. In addition, 39.3% of current members want Sande society to be stopped and this figure rises to 47% in rural areas.

There is currently no law criminalising the practise of FGM in Liberia but in September 2014 the Government suspended Sande initiations due to Ebola. However there are reports of FGM taking place despite this ban. Ebola has also caused the work of NGO’s and campaigners against FGM to be disrupted and/or stopped.

“Our research on FGM in Liberia has been especially challenging,” says Dr Ann-Marie Wilson, Executive Director of 28 Too Many. “As it is linked to the Sande societies, FGM is considered taboo and there can be a severe threat of physical harm, and intimidation towards activists and journalists speaking out against the practice. In addition Ebola has had a huge impact on a country still rebuilding after the civil wars. It is critical that as Liberia recovers after Ebola that positive efforts resume improving women’s rights and health including funding for programmes to end FGM.”

FGM survivor and campaigner Alimatu Dimonekene commented, “Thank you for the 28 Too Many report on FGM in Liberia.  As a person with strong ties to Liberia, it gives me hope that things are things are progressing, and this report will help organisations locally to help end FGM.”

Winnifred Gaye, who works in the Liberian Embassy in London added, “As a Liberian I know how much of a problem FGM is in my country, and therefore I am really pleased that 28 Too Many has completed this useful and much needed research work to help address the issue. Accurate information is essential to end this practice.”


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