Only one of the seven presidential candidates in Sierra Leone has denounced the widespread practice of female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM), which can lead to serious health and pregnancy problems for women. According to the Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS), candidates are reluctant to estrange constituents who support the practice, including members of “Bondo societies” — underground sisterhoods where the practice of FGM, along with the instruction of domestic duties, is used to initiate girls into womanhood. “I cannot say a word now [against FGM] because I need [the Bondo societies’] support,” Convention People’s Party candidate Tinah Greene, told IPS.
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) party is the only group to speak out against FGM. Additionally, NDA is the only party to have a woman running for the vice-presidency. No party has put forth a woman presidential candidate.
About 90 percent of women living in Sierra Leone have undergone FGM, Amnesty International reports. The practice can include the full or partial removal of the clitoris and labia. Sometimes, the wound is stitched up, allowing only a small opening for urine and menstrual blood to escape. Women who have undergone FGM frequently experience reduced or no sexual feeling, pain, long-term illness, mental disorders, obstetric complications, and sometimes death.
Sierra Leone has signed both the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Maputo Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. Both documents include a pledge to ban FGM, though Sierra Leone has made no move to do so. The government is not totally abandoning the issue, however; the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs hopes to set an age of consent for women before undergoing the practice, and government-sponsored educational campaigns advertise the negative effects of FGM.