How many more girls will die from FGM before Liberia makes it illegal?

Zaye Doe was just 16-years-old when she died on the way to hospital after undergoing FGM earlier this year. Sadly, she is now another statistics among the many girls who have died after undergoing Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Liberia.

Now the question is how many more girls will die needlessly before the Liberian Parliament finally introduce a law to make FGM illegal in the country?

Once considered a ‘taboo subject’ in the country, things appeared to be changing in mid-2015, when in response to many years of international and national pressure, a domestic violence bill was finally introduced in Liberia to strengthen legislation on various forms of violence against women and girls – including, for the first time, a ban on FGM.

Unfortunately, the proposed measures were extremely weak. The bill only categorized FGM as an offence in situations where it is performed on a person under the age of 18 – or a person 18 years old or over, without their supposed consent. This effectively provided a legal loophole for parents or legal guardians to grant “consent” on behalf of their daughters, leaving those most at risk unprotected. They also included ineffective penalties for perpetrators, where counselling and fines could be arbitrarily determined by a judge.

Eventually, the Liberian parliament completely dropped provisions to end FGM in the draft Domestic Violence Bill in 2016, thus in effect voting for the continuation of FGM practice. Liberia is now one of only three countries in Western Africa that have yet to ban FGM, along with Mali and Sierra Leone.

Law makers in Liberia need to stand up for the women and girls they represent, and this should include the adoption of an effective anti-FGM law. The question is how many more girls will die needlessly before President Johnson-Sirleaf rises to the occasion and cracks the whip?

All this is against a backdrop where girls have suffered and died in the hands of traditional secret societies, known as ‘Sande’ in the local dialect. The Sande female secret society promotes and carries out FGM as part of an initiation rite into womanhood. More than 58.2% of Liberian women have undergone FGM.

Now the lid to Liberia’s well-kept secret has been lifted, it is time to act. This matter should be in the President’s urgent in-tray because one more girl succumbing to FGM is one too many.

Like previous stories, Zaye Doe’s situation was no different. From Liberia’s Tappita area, in Nimba County, she is reported to have spent two months in the Sande bush where FGM was carried out to initiate girls into the secret society.

It was on the day of her burial, March 31st, 2017 that the fatal outcome of her death was reported to local women’s rights organizations, the Women Solidarity Incorporated (WOSI) and Action Aid Liberia.

There is no medical report because Zaye’s body was not taken to a medical facility for postmortem. She died on route to hospital. It has been reported that two other girls underwent FGM with her in the bus and survived but allegedly are being treated for cholera in hospital.

The suspected perpetrators were arrested on a April 6th. Without a national law banning FGM to prosecute them, efforts to hold them accountable for carrying out this extreme form of gender based violence maybe futile.

President Johnson-Sirleaf has publicly declared her commitment to women’s rights, yet FGM is happening in Liberia under her watch. This makes a mockery of the intensive and persistent calls to end this human rights violation by organizations in the country, where the population is approximately 85% Christian, and those working internationally such as human rights organisation Equality Now.

“The practice of FGM has spread to over 11 counties. Liberia has ratified all several regional and international human rights instruments that call for states to ban FGM through strong legislation, awareness and psychosocial support to victims of FGM. The President of Liberia also pledged on many occasions to pass a bill introducing a law banning the practice before the end of her tenure. It is now time to rise up and ensure that FGM stops in Liberia.” Grace Uwizeye, Program Officer, End FGM, Equality Now

Is president’s Johnson-Sirleaf’s in-tray too full to accommodate this urgent need to protect the girls and women of Liberia? Let’s join hands, let’s remind her that this is a vital role she needs to play. Raise your voice today! #EndFGM #LiberiaBanFGM

About Equality Now:

Equality Now is an international human rights organization that works to protect and promote the rights of women and girls around the world by combining grassroots activism with international, regional and national legal advocacy. An international network of lawyers, activists, and supporters achieve legal and systemic change by holding governments responsible for enacting and enforcing laws and policies that end legal inequality, sexual trafficking, sexual violence, and female genital mutilation.

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