MONROVIA – The National Council of Chiefs and Elders of Liberia (NACCEL), under the leadership of Chief Zanzar Karwor, on Monday, February 6, 2023, officially banned female genital mutilation (FGM) in Liberia and marked the closure of Sande bush schools in Montserrado where FGM is heavily practiced. The pronouncement followed the turning over of Sande documents and instruments by zoes led by Head Zoe Massa Kandakai to mark the abolition of FGM in Montserrado in January 2023.
The Vice President, H.E. Jewel Howard Taylor, present at the event in Sonkay Town, lauded NACCEL for demonstrating commitment for ending the practice of FGM. The decree to ban FGM by Chief Karwor was made on the International Day for Zero Tolerance for FGM.
The ban comes after a year of sensitization with Zoes, chiefs, and elders following the signing of a Policy Statement by Traditional Leaders on Temporary Suspension on Sande Practices in Liberia in February 2022. The Policy Statement included a commitment to suspend FGM for three years.
Despite the 3-year nationwide suspension on FGM, many Sande schools have continued to practice FGM because of the difficulty in changing deeply entrenched cultural norms and practices. The Sande School is, as Cultural Ambassador Juli Endee noted at the program, one of the oldest institutions in Liberia.
As such, she said that there is a need to carry out rituals and awareness raising to allow the traditional people to transition to the Kpowah Sande, which is the Sande Society which practices initiation without mutilation.
“We have 11 Counties that are practicing FGM, for Montserrado we have done our traditional rituals for 19 days and nights to speak with our ancestors which allowed us to come to such decisions,” said Ambassador Juli Endee.
The Ministries of Internal Affairs and Gender, Children, and Social Protection have also been instrumental in promoting the approach of initiation without mutilation, to maintain Liberia’s positive cultural practices.
Announcing the ban in Sonkay Town, Chief Kanwor called for the chiefs, elders, and zoes present to join him at the podium where he sought their consensus on whether he should declare the ban. When they consented, the Chief said, “On behalf of my indigenous people, by the power vested in me, as Chairman of all the traditional Chiefs in 15 Counties, the FGM is banned in this country.” Chief Kanwor said he held prior consultations chiefs, elders, and deceased ancestors and they all agreed to the ban, as Liberia cannot be left behind among the comity of nations. He then called on chiefs and elders to share the message around the country.
At a dialogue at the National Legislature on Tuesday, February 7, Chief Karwor reiterated NACCEL’s commitment to ending FGM and emphasized the need to perform such rituals in the remaining counties and providing alternative livelihoods to ensure acceptance by traditional people and zoes in the remaining 10 FGM practicing counties.
The Vice President, H.E. Jewel Howard Taylor, expressed gratitude to Chief Zanzan Karwor and implored him and the Council members to continue the work to sensitize and gain acceptance of traditional leaders where FGM is still being practiced so zoes and communities will adhere to the ban and stop the practice.
She called on Chief Zanzan Karwor to further engage the legislature and the international community to ensure the speedy passage of the anti-FGM bill into law. Liberia is one of only three countries in West Africa that has not outlawed the practice of FGM.
The Vice President thanked the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development and the Ministry of Internal Affairs as well as women’s groups, civil society organizations and networks who for years have been advocating for an end to FGM and harmful practices which disproportionately affect women and girls.
The Vice President also thanked UN Women and Jaha Dukureh, UN Women’s Ambassador on Ending FGM and Child Marriage, as well as development partners – especially Sweden and the European Union for supporting the Government of Liberia and NACCEL to promote alternative rites of passage and livelihoods and abolish FGM in Liberia.
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