Presentations and discussions were based on the theme: “The new beginning” promoting women and girls from FGM. It can be recalled during the national address to mark the end of Ebola outbreak on 7th November 2016, President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma spoke of “a new beginning” which warrants that “traditional practices that have negative impact on health, and which were discontinued during the Ebola outbreak, should not be returned to”. It was against this backdrop that the Forum Against Harmful Practices (FAHP) considers that this constitute an important basis on which to lobby, build allies and engage stakeholders like Religious Leaders to support legislation to ban the practice of FGM consistent with the many international protocols and treaties signed and ratified by Sierra Leone. The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs in collaboration with UNICEF, supported the development of a National Strategy on the reduction of FGM in the country. The draft Strategy in now ready for finalization.
The Forum against Harmful Practices (FAHP) is a coalition of Civil Society Organizations formed in 2014 to work towards the abandonment of harmful traditional practices, especially Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), in Sierra Leone. It is a national coalition that was formed to respond to the increasing need for collaboration among organizations working towards the reduction and ultimate eradication of harmful traditional practices.
With support from the Wallace Global Fund, FAHP has been organizing series of national dialogues and consultations with key stakeholders to map out the way forward for FGM in the country following the temporary ban on the practice of FGM as part of a series of measures to end the Ebola Viral Disease, in which FAHP believes that this could be built upon to advocate for a permanent ban as starting point for consideration of legislation against the practice.
The Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs said FGM which is done for traditional practices and none therapeutic reasons, can sometimes pose serious threat to the health of women and girls, through psychosocial trauma, reproductive health issues including adverse obstetric or prenatal outcomes, and in extreme cases it is been known to result in fatal consequences. Madam Rugiatu Neneh Turay revealed that Pillar eight in the Agenda for Prosperity states against underage initiation or rites of passage for girls which is a commitment to international obligations already signed including the Maputo Protocol. “Our Government is highly committed to attain the highest possible standard of health for girls and women, particularly their sexual and reproductive health rights,” the Deputy Minister said.
Sierra Leone, she said is one of the three countries in West Africa with the highest prevalence of FGM figures in the world, with 88% prevalence among women aged 15-49, and 10% prevalence of girls aged 0-14 years. Madam Neneh Turay admonished Religious leaders to play a key role in addressing issues of FGM affecting women and girls just as they did in ending the war and bringing the spread of the Ebola disease to an end.
Reverend Moses Kanu of the Inter Religious Council said their participation in the dialogue forum shows that they should take responsibility of the outcomes and recommendations. FGM, he said is not a religious practice that should be supported. “FGM has placed people in captivity,” he said, and added that “we as Religious Leaders should serve as a light to bring them out of the FGM bondage.” “I will die for FGM. We should rise up to say no to FGM,” Reverend Kanu said.
The Chief Imam of Bo City, Alhaji Mustapha Joker underscored the importance of education as a strategy to stop FGM.
UNICEF’s Child Protection Officer in the South, Ishmael Momodu said the reduction of harmful traditional practices amongst women and girls is one of their priorities this year. He pledged his organization’s to support programmes and budgets that address the welfare of woman and girls in the country.
Head of the Bo District Human Right Committee, Anthony Blake said the reduction if FGM in society requires time and resilience. The harmful practice, he said is a violation of human right because it causes bodily harm. “We will join hands to make FGM a thing of the past,” he said. Other speakers include the Deputy Director if Gender in the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, Madam Goodie Wowonie and Madam Aminata Koroma. The event was chaired by Assistant Gender Director in Bo, Patrick Bangura.
The engagement brought to light the health and human rights benefits that extending the ban can have for the country and for its citizen. Presentations were made on the Islamic and Christian perspective of FGM, in which key issues highlighted shows that the practice is unreligious. This was followed by a group work where issues on how to stop FGM and recommendations were made by the two religions.