By Garmah Lomo
VEZELA, LOFA The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights Resident Coordinator, Mr.Antony Akumu Abogi has lauded traditional leaders for their efforts made so far in supporting the ban on FGM but Request for more action to ensure that the ban is fully enforced, including through legislation.
The UN Envoy made the remarks during the official closing ceremony of the Lofa County groove (Sande Society Bush) on February 6, 2024 in Vezela, Lofa County.
Mr. Abogi said, the closure of Lofa County sande society bush coincide with the world commemorating the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.
He noted that said day is time to reflection about the need to END Female Genital Mutilation, a harmful traditional practice that violates the rights of women and girls. It is also a day where we celebrate the achievements we completed so far in the process for abolishing FGM anhow we consolidate each and everyone’s efforts to continue safeguarding women and girls’ rights, including the right to live a life free from FGM.
The theme for the 2024 commemoration of International women day is “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.
He added that globally, more than 200 million girls and women have undergone FGM, In Liberia, statistics from the Health and Demographic Survey (DHS) showed that 38.2% of women and girls aged between 15 and 49 years have undergone FGM.
The UN Resident Coordinator Commended Chief Zanzan Karwor for the historic step taken in declaring a full ban on FGM in February 2023, for efforts made since then that ensured that the FGM ban is implemented in 4 counties. Today Lofa is becoming the 5th county to take a bold step in implementing a full ban on FGM.
“Congratulate the traditional leaders of Lofa for opting to adopt the concept of “initiation without mutilation” in replacement of the FGM harmful social norm. Alternative rites of passage need to be the ones that honor the dignity, autonomy, physical and mental health of young girls”, he said.
Mr. Abogi reminded all participants that the UN System and partners respect traditional and cultural values of Liberia; however, practices that negatively affect the health and life of women and girls need to be abolished and the rights of women and girls need to be protected.
He called upon development partners to invest in survivor-led movements as per the theme of this year. Resources and investments to support the work of survivors and activists to end FGM need to be considered to complement the work started by traditional leaders to mobilize communities to move away from the FGM harmful practice.
The Head of UN Human Rights lauded CSOs to keep up the good work in working with communities and support traditional leaders in monitoring the implementation of the FGM ban, reporting on violation and engaging with communities in preventive actions aimed at the protection of women and girls against FGM.
He also recognized the EU and the Government of Sweden for the generous support to the work aimed at creating a positive shift in social norms, availing the heritage center to empower former practitioners and supporting the efforts of the National Council of Chiefs and Elders of Liberia (with technical support from Crusaders for Peace) to ban FGM and enforce the ban in different counties.
However, ended on a note calling on the local communities to continue working together and in collaboration with all partners to ensure that the future of women and girls is brighter and free from FGM.
For his part, the Chairman of the National Chief and Elders of Liberia Zanzan Karwor thanked the Citizens of Lofa County for their willingness to close down bush school.
Chief Karwor, used the occasion to call on chiefs and Zoes to be peaceful in the discharge of their duties in their respective counties.
The Chief Zoe turned political and highlighted that election has come and gone and his mission now is to preach the message of peace.
He threatened to penalize any Chief and elders traditionally who will go against the appointed Ministry of Internal Affairs Minister Francis S. Nyumalin and called on all Zoes and Chief to work with President Joseph Nyuma Boakai.
Chief Karwor also urged traditional Zoes to find non- sande society bush members who will pass to their traditional places unknown to them to be fined rather than forcefully initiating them.
Meanwhile, Chief Karwor called on the UN authorities, EU, Swedish Embassy and other embassies near Monrovia to end their good works by providing solar light systems to those multi-purpose vocational centers for women.
For his part, Mr. Anders Arvidsson, EUD Deputy Head of Mission expressed his thanks and appreciation to the Crusaders for peace and local partners for the bold steps taken so far.
The EU is the lead sponsor behind the spotlight initiative in several counties in order to eliminate Sexual Gender Based violence.
Mr. Arvidsson indicated that FGM has been a widespread issue affecting several women and girls in Liberia and the world at large.
He added that women and girls have rights to their own body and have the right to say no to the harmful traditional practices.
The EU deputy head of mission pledged his mission’s commitment to supporting or funding the alternative livelihood program for women and girls in order to see a better future for them.