Bong Traditional Leaders Suspend FGM -Supt. Walker, Others Say Move Opens Doors for New Life

BONG COUNTY: In the wake of the indefinite suspension of Sande Society activities in Bong County Superintendent Esther Walker says the local authorities and partners have identified a parcel of land for the construction of heritage center for local authorities to train women who are willing to abandon the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM).

Speaking to a local radio station, Superintendent Walker said stakeholders including the 15 women Zoes of Liberia, the leader of the Traditional Council – Chief  Zanzan Kawa , the Ministries of Internal Affairs and  Gender, Swedish Ambassador to Liberia,  the UN Women ActionAid amongst others, met over the weekend with the land owner of Gbaota, and told them that it was Bong County’s time  to surrender to the women a land area for the use of them that were removing themselves from their traditional Sande practice so that the project of abolishing FGM will take place .

“As I speak, at Gbaota, the women have already brushed up on where the agriculture program will be taking place, she said, noting that they will have to bring a lot of materials for them which are on the way”, She said.

The Bong County Superintendent indicated that  the ceremony marking the official suspension of the traditional Sande activities was a painful one characterizing weeping and sorrow, noting that it was so because it is what they were taught by their people, it’s what they know and what they have been living by.

“Although they were given the land spots and they were clearing it, the process was so sorrowful to them that they were leaving what they have been used to,” Superintendent Walker said.

She made the disclosure Monday, October 23, 2023 in Bong County following a formal program during which   the zoes and elders of the Sande Society presented to the local authorities their operational tools of the traditional society of Bong, pronouncing to the world   that Bong County was indefinitely suspending the practice of FGM in the county.

Presenting the tools, a representation of the Women Zoes and elders told the gathering that their move was consistent with pronouncement by the leadership of the Traditional Council of Liberia calling for the suspension of the practice of FGM in the country.  The women also pointed to the three-year ban of FGM in Liberia by the government in June, 2022  and indicated that their action was in compliance with the call for the abolition of FGM in the society.

Superintendent Walker thanked the traditional women and elders and zoes, saying that the step taken by them was in a positive direction.

Also speaking at the ceremony was the Executive Director of the Crusaders of Peace, Ambassador Julie Endie who also commended the zoes and traditional leaders. She consoled the women from sobbing for their move saying that “When one door closes, another opens.”  The Liberian Peace Ambassador noted that they should look up to God for the future and noted that there were more positive things to achieve in the wake of the end of the FGM; a practice she noted in essence is violence against women.

For her part, the representative of the UN women who attended the occasion also applauded the Bong County women and zoes, adding that they were on the right side of history. She appeased the women by stating that when one door closes the other door opens, and pointed out the “You may not know what is behind that opens.”

It was said that these women will be presented farming implements and local loan opportunities that will introduce to them a new way of earning livelihood.

It can be recalled that the world applauded traditional leaders of Liberia for pronouncing ban on FGM when the global community stated that Liberia have made historic announcement declaring ban on Female Genital Mutilation in the country.

In a release issued February 9, 2023, Safe Hands for Girls represented by the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Jaha Dukureh – and Equality, another international organization, congratulated Chief Zanzan Karwor, the Chairperson of the National Council of Chiefs and Elders in Liberia, and the entire council for declaring a ban on female genital mutilation (FGM) in Liberia on the 6th of February 2023.

In a ground breaking declaration made on the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, Chief Zanzan with the authorization of 15 paramount Chiefs across Liberia declared, “By the power vested in me by all the Paramount Chiefs of the 15 political divisions in Liberia and signed by myself… FGM is banned in Liberia.”

Chief Zanzan on the occasion explained that the elaborate ceremonies and rituals undertaken in the lead up to the Zero Tolerance Day celebration were carried out in order to get authorization from the zoes (the traditional cutters who perform FGM), elders and chiefs to ban the practice in the whole country.

The momentous pronouncement was made at an event held in Songay town, Liberia,  and was witnessed and supported by high level officials, including Vice President Hon. Jewel Howard-Taylor, Minister for Gender Children and Social Protection Gender Minister Williametta E. Saydee-Tarr, UN Women Regional Goodwill Ambassador for Africa Jaha Dukureh, and members from the diplomatic corps representing the European Union, United States of America, Sweden, Norway, Cuba, and Nigeria representing the ECOWAS community.

Also present was the Liberia Country Representative of UN Women, which has supported the establishment of heritage centers – including in Songay town where the celebrations were held – to serve as a place for alternative livelihood for the zoes who are abandoning the practice.

“The traditional leaders have paved the way for us by giving us the first step in the journey to ending FGM in Liberia. We are greatly honored and thank them,” Vice President of Liberia, Hon. Jewel Howard-Taylor said in appreciation of the trailblazing declaration. We acknowledge the efforts made over the years towards ending FGM in Liberia and wish to congratulate the Government leadership in this area, members of Liberian Civil Society, and the broader human rights community. We believe that their collective efforts have brought us to this moment, including through de-stigmatization of discussions about FGM in the public space. We laud and commend all who have been part of the journey.

The declaration by Chief Zanzan Karwor, they said, gives this campaign much needed impetus as it is at the heart of the matter. The custodian and practitioners of the harmful practice of FGM, in a public display of courage, with pomp and circumstance, are laying down their tools and choosing to ‘evolve’ their culture to initiate girls but not mutilate them.

“We hope that this laudable effort by the traditional leaders also acts a fillip for Liberian Parliament to finally pass an anti-FGM law, and we pledge our support in turn to work towards a robust legislation against FGM in Liberia and ultimately towards zero cases of FGM in the country”, he said.

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