LIBERIA: Traditional Leaders Suspend Sande Practices For Three Years ~ As Gender Minister Calls For End To FGM

The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection in collaboration with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the National Council of Chiefs and Elders have climaxed a two-day a multi-stakeholders reflective sessions on the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Liberia.

The national conference was part of events marking the commemoration of this year’s International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. In December of 2012, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution A/RES/67/146, calling upon member nations to globally observe February 6th, every year as International Day of Zero Tolerance against Female Genital Mutilation. The act which is a violation of human rights and the health and well-being of women and girls involves the alteration of the female genital area for non-for-profit reasons.

Globally, this year’s FGM is being commemorated under the Theme: “Accelerating Investment To End FGM” while the local theme is: “A Sober Reflection on FGM: Leading to Protection and a Sustainable Future.”

During a two-day national conference with traditional leaders in the City of Gbarnga, Bong County, the traditional leaders affirmed their signatures to upholding a policy document to temporarily suspend all Sande society practices and activities in the Republic of Liberia with immediate effect for the period of three (3) years.

“Wherefore, and in view of the forgoing, the National Council of Chiefs and Elders of Liberia (NACCEL) an institution charged with the responsibility to protect, preserve and foster positive Liberian Culture and Tradition, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), with the mandate to preserve the sanity of traditional activities within the means and bounds of Liberia in taking appropriate actions to change any given situation that is not healthy for our people, in collaboration with the Ministry of Gender, Children & Social Protection (MGCSP) with the mandate to protect women, girls and vulnerable groups, and the Civil Society with the mandate to support Government’s initiatives, having participated in two days national conference with traditional leaders in the City of Gbarnga, Bong County at the Gbarngba Administrative Building, deliberating on high level of traditional concerns in the Country and  seeking the restoration of the glory of our culture, having unanimously agreed, do hereby announce the temporary suspension of all Sande society practices and activities in the Republic of Liberia with immediate effect for the period of  three (3) years.” An excerpt from the policy statement.

It can be recalled that in June of 2019, traditional leaders from the eleven (11) FGM practicing counties met in Ganta, Nimba County and suspended Sande Bushes for one year for the purpose of conducting an inventory to develop database, modernize the practice and provide alternative economic livelihood for traditional practitioners. The results from the inventory identified 1,335 traditional practitioners and 721 traditional grooves in the 11 FGM practices counties in 77 statutory and administrative districts in Liberia.

To-date, 300 of these traditional practitioners received alternative livelihood support as an alternative to the abandonment of the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). There are 4 counties with vocational and heritage centers. Even though similar inventories have been done in the past by the Carter Center and other partners, NACCEL called for the conduct of the inventory to obtain detailed information on grooves location, names of traditional practitioners and their alternative livelihood skills.

Under the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative, alternative economic support has been provided to FGM practitioners in five (5) counties (including Grand Cape Mount, Grand Gedeh, Lofa, Nimba and Montserrado Counties). This support is in the form of business skills empowerment, climate smart agriculture, literacy skills among others. Four (4) out of the five (5)Spotlight Counties are currently benefitting from the construction of heritage and vocational centers that will continue to serve as multipurpose centers wherein such economic support will be sustained.

Liberia remains one of the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) practicing Countries in Africa with a considerable number of young girls being denied access to formal education as the result of this practice by traditional practitioners as bush schools are operated during regular formal school sessions.

Speaking at the opening session of the national conference, Gender, Children and Social Protection Minister Williametta E. Saydee-Tarr lauded traditional leaders for accepting to discuss in finding a lasting way to solve FGM practice. According to her, it is a testimony that we are now taking a step in the positive direction.

“As Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, my job has made me to understand that just the issuance of Executive Orders and the signing of commitments with our traditional leaders is insufficient to curb the practice of Female Genital Mutilation. We must also accept the fact that the practiced has grown to the level where it now comes with economic benefit for our people. We like to use this platform to encourage our partners to continue to support the business skills: empowerment, literacy skills and smart climate agriculture program that they are funding for our people.” Minister Saydee-Tarr stated.

She asserted that her objective of sensitizing and creating awareness about the practice in the communities and the renewal of the previous policy statement signed by traditional leaders on the suspension of FGM will never be fully addressed if we fail to take actions that will protect our women and girls, and forge for them a sustainable future.

“Though our people continue to use this practice as a source of mentorship to the younger generation, the horror, short term complications, severe pain and bleeding that are meted out against women and girls during this practice produces long term sexual and reproductive health consequence over their lifetime.” The Gender Minister averred.

She used the occasion to extend gratitude to the European Union backed UN Spotlight Initiative which has been instrumental in providing economic support to FGM Practitioners in Grand Cape Mount, Grand Gedeh, Nimba, Lofa and Montserrado Counties.

The Minister lauded President George Manneh Weah for the partnership formed in 2019 with the National Council of Chiefs and Elders that led to the suspension of the Sande activities across the country.

She ended on a passionate plead to all stakeholders to design innovative ways through which Liberia can address female genital mutilation whilst at the same time maintaining other important components of our cultural heritage.

The two days national conference with support from the European Union, United Nations and Government of Liberia Spotlight Initiative ran from Thursday, February 3 to Friday, February 4, 2022. The conference gathered Two Hundred (200) participants including traditional leaders, members of civil society organizations, government officials and international partners.

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