An agreement stating that girls under 18 will not undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) in Sierra Leone was recently signed by village chiefs and other community leaders, including women who perform FGM. The agreement affects the Kambia district, which is in the northernwestern part of the country.
At puberty, the majority of girls in Sierra Leone are initiated into the Bondo Society, a secret society of women that uses circumcision to initiate new members abducted the women. Gloria Bella, of Sierra Leone’s Human Rights Commission, told IRIN, “community leaders feel that [initiation] is their culture, they feel offended by lobbyists, and don’t listen…We need to listen to their fears and try to allay them, and make sure they know we are not coming in to challenge traditional authority.” John Marah, who works against FGM in Sierra Leone through local NGOs, also told IRIN “We are against just the cutting, not the training. You can still have a rite of passage. It’s just a change of mentality.”
FGM is a volatile issue in Sierra Leone. In February, four female journalists were brutally attacked by the Bondo Society in Kenema, one of Sierra Leone’s largest cities. The journalists were abducted, stripped, and marched through the city after being accused of reporting on an anti-FGM campaign. Police and human rights organizations intervened to free the women.
Female genital mutilation (FGM), partial or total removal of external genitalia, continues to be practiced illegally throughout Africa. FGM is practiced as a rite of passage in 28 African countries. Approximately 3 million young women annually are forced to undergo FGM as an initiation into womanhood.