Sierra Leone Females: Poor, Uneducated, Butchered

28 02 2009

Kidnapped by women, stripped naked, and paraded through the streets. This was the plight of four women journalists on February 7 in the city of Kenema in the African country of Sierra Leone. The reason? To punish them for reporting on female genital mutilation (FGM). The United Nations reports that 94% of women and girls in Sierra Leone ages 15 – 49 have experienced FGM, which is done to control their sexual urges, make them ready for marriage, and to make them an acceptable female member of society. Women cannot even hold office in Sierra Leone unless they have been cut.

Last year the Sierra Leone government said it would ban FGM, but it has done nothing about it. Patricia Kabbah, the late wife of previous President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, sponsored (paid for) the circumcisions of 15,000 girls in order to get votes for her husband. A decade ago, the woman who later became the Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Women’s Affairs in Sierra Leone threatened to “sew up the mouths” of those who preach against FGM.

It is hard to imagine that women such as the journalists’ kidnappers, the ex-president’s wife, and a minster of women’s affairs would all advocate the barbaric practice of cutting off the clitoris (and sometimes also the labia) of girls. The practice is often done with a crude knife, razor blade, or even a piece of broken glass and can cause severe bleeding and infection, injure girls for life, make them incontinent, make them infertile, cause complications during pregnancy and childbirth, and can even cause death.

Rugiatu Turay Fights FGM - Credit: The Independent

Rugiatu Turay Fights FGM - Credit: The Independent

One brave woman in Sierra Leone who is working to stop this practice is 26-year-old Rugiatu Turay. Ms. Turay is a victim of FGM herself. The Independent online reports this about what happened to Ms. Turay when she was 12 years old:

Ms Turay was mutilated at her aunt’s house where she was staying with her three sisters and her cousin. “We didn’t even know that we were going to be initiated,” she says. “They called me to get water and then outside they just grabbed me.”

She was blindfolded, stripped, and laid on the ground. Heavy women sat on her arms, her chest, her legs. Her mouth was stuffed with a rag. Her clitoris was cut off with a crude knife. Despite profuse bleeding she was forced to walk, was beaten and had hot pepper water poured into her eyes.

“My mother had always told me never to let anyone touch me there. I was scared and I tried to fight them off. Nobody talked to me but there was all this clapping, singing, shouting,” recalls Ms Turay. “When I tried to walk on the seventh day I could not walk. All they could say is ‘Today you have become a woman’.”

For the past six years, Ms. Turay has waged a war with the 20 people on her staff against FGM through her organization Amazonian Initiative Movement. She became an activist after a cousin bled to death from FGM. She works to persuade the soweis, the women who do the cutting, to lay down their knives and stop practicing FGM. So far she has convinced 700 to over 1200 soweis (the numbers vary according to different reports) in 111 villages to stop the cutting and participating in the traditional bondo ceremony. Ms. Turay has received numerous death threats, been attacked, and has had magic used against her. Because she is still alive, the local people think she has special powers and they now leave her alone.

Katrina Manson, the journalist who wrote The Independent article, asked President Koroma of Sierra Leone, elected in 2007, his thoughts on FGM and he said “Let people in civil society deal with this issue.” That means that brave people such as Ms. Turay must fight against the 3 million new African girls being mutilated each year, adding to the 92 million already circumcized.

It is shocking that girls as young as FIVE years old are trained to be circumsisers. 35-year-old Marion Kanu, interviewed by Ms. Manson, gave her reasons for practicing it: “I didn’t like it when it happened to me and I worry about the pain of the girl, but I do it because they pay me, and because we met our ancestors doing it.” The woman’s two children also are circumcisers. In this poor country it is a way to make a living. The village elders have an incentive to keep the practice going also; they receive the equivalent of $25 for every circumcision rite.

Sierra Leone ranked last in the UN’s Human Development Index in 2007 and 2008. Life expectancy there is the lowest of any country in the world: 42 years old. Only 25% of women are literate; 37% of the entire population is literate. The country has the highest rate in the world of mothers dying during childbirth: 1,800 women for every 100,000 live births “…largely due to lack of human resources and corruption in the healthcare sector” according to the UN. 25% of children die before the age of five. Annual income is about $240.

This is a country where people are uneducated, live in extreme poverty, and are steeped in traditions and in corruption …all making it extremely difficult to stamp out female genital mutilation. According to the World Health Organization, the best way to begin to do this is literacy, education, and alternative forms of income for the soweis.

International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation is sponsored by UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) each February 6. If you want to help, you might consider going to Unicef.org and making a donation.

Additional information can be found at the Female Genital Cutting Education and Networking Project.

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11 responses

1 03 2009
Mike

Just passing by.Btw, your website has great content!

1 03 2009
sidhe

Thank you for posting on this. It is often easy to forget the true suffering of our sisters throughout the word.

1 03 2009
skyewriter

I don’t know what is worse: that this happens or that it’s women actually perpetuating and encouraging the legacy of this abomination.

Thank you for this very important and informative post.

3 03 2009
PrettyK

Please I appreciate the time you took to post this article but please edit your fact about the country control of power and how position are filled by woman. Yes its not the big pictures here but i would still like to save some grace for my homeland. As upsetting as this practice sound in Sierra Leone don’t add fallacious information. Oh, not everyone in Sierra Leone practice FGM exception being the Creoles.

3 03 2009
maryanncp

This is a very discouraging story. Article #7 of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) calls for the full integration of women into the political life of their nations. In most cases, as women gain more equal representation in parliaments and in other leadership roles they work to improve the lives of other women and girls. It is sad to learn that in Sierra Leone some women who hold political office are using their positions to perpetuate harmful cultural practices. I hope that PrettyK and her sisters in Sierra Leone will raise their voices against leaders who support FGM.

3 03 2009
PrettyK

Nooooooo I should have been more specific but I do love the fact that there are activist like yourself that stands against and inform the outside world on this issue.

In no way or form am I trying to take away from your gracious Heart and humanitarian effort in helping the people of Sierra Leone. Believe me we desperately need it!

Sierra Leone was supposed to be just about the richest country in African yet it lies at the borders of being the poorest.

I may have been about 11 when one of my childhood friends told me about the practice of Bondo as is known in Sierra Leone or female circumcision to the outside world.

Curious self I asked her what happed to the part they caught off. She then told me that they are made to eat it thru a special dish called Cassava leaf.

Don’t quote me on that I was 11 but I remember her saying exactly that. And they are told to be discret after such practice so maybe she told me that to stop me from asking further question.

I have STEP cousins that went thru this practice and they all describe it as being dreadful.

Again I am not trying to take away from what you reported because it’s a practice that exist within certain ethnic groups in the country.

Thankfully, my tribe doesn’t practice such act at least from what I know and from what my parents told me that not part of our tradition.

FGM is mostly practice in the villages Preferable a lot of people want to call it tradition and that it’s apart of the African cultural.

There is no first account history of the practice of FGM. I propose that it just started from some uneducated female in the villages who figure out a way to lessen sexual desires.

Yes we do need to educate females all over Africa about the dangers and vainness of this practice. Yes, some of our sisters are dying from such practice that could have been avoided simply by educating them of the side effect of FGM.

The main reason for my prior post was the statements made that woman are not allowed to held office position unless they are cut.

Common, at backward as the country is the female voice is never silent You just have to find an individual Like Ms. Turay who is willing to speak out and you definitely don’t
have to be cut to seek office position.

There are women in the country that have held several government positions without being cut.

FGM is little or none existence practice in the country capital of Freetown. It’s quite hard for government to monitor what goes on in the villages. Most individuals that live in the villages have been filled with the notion that their culture requires such act therefore they feel compel to engage in secret practice.

Please my only objection is that FGM is not a requirement to fulfil a office postion in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Please Pray for the country as peace reign after a 12yrs civil war that was filled with so much atrocities and human right abuse.

3 03 2009
PrettyK

Tears! Thank You Very Much AustinTeXas girl I feel the love. I currently Reside in the state of MI it’s a loooong story how i end up here but let’s not divert let’s just say i’m alive and Well.

29 03 2009
24 06 2009
greetings

For any one in doubt, this is not “circumcision” as in men, where the foreskin of the penis is removed. The clitoris itself is cut off.

A woman’s clitoris is like a small penis, only it is undifferentiated (doesn’t have the development and tubes that penises have) and obviously small. It does, however, have the same set of nerve endings as penii have.

The clitoris has an important role in fertility, and along with the labia, protects the urethra opening and vulva. Because of the short length of the urethra, women are vulnerable to infections in the urethra, bladder, and ultimately kidneys which untreated leads to kidney failure and death. Interfering with women’s external genitalia is a serious mistake.

Respect women’s individuality, respect women’s privacy. A clitoris belongs to each woman, it is not the business of her extended family.

20 09 2009
Bill Bartmann

Hey good stuff…keep up the good work! 🙂 I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks,)

A definite great read.. -Bill Bartmann

25 09 2009
Manderson

Hey, I found your blog in a new directory of blogs. I dont know how your blog came up, must have been a typo, anyway cool blog, I bookmarked you. 🙂

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