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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Journalists forced to strip after being attacked by women's group

Article published on the 2009-02-10 Latest update 2009-02-10 17:07 TU
The road from Kenema to Kailahun District, Sierra Leone(Credit: Wikimedia)
Four female journalists were attacked by a pro-female genital mutilation (FGM) group on Monday and forced to stip naked and walk through the centre of Kenema, a town in the eastern part of the country. The four women were accused of reporting on an anti-FGM campaign last Friday, which marked the international day of tolerance for zero circumcision.
The women were reportedly still in a state of shock. Witnesses said that the women were forcibly taken to the forest headquarters of the Bondo society, a secret society that traditionally carries out FGM practices.
Secret societies in Sierra Leone have a lot of clout within the country, and politicians refuse to touch the topic for fear of losing votes.
"No comments have been made from the government. The police cannot do anything because there are no laws backing us up," said Laurel Bangura, the head of the Sierra Leone chapter of IACHTP, a pan-African committee on harmful traditional practices.
Bangura said that before now it was taboo to talk about FGM, but this extreme reaction to journalists covering the anti-FGM day shows a breakthrough in the hold that these societies once had.
During the Sierra Leonean war (1991-2002), there was no advocacy against female genital mutilation, said Bangura. Advocacy was started after the war, she added.
"But there is no security for advocates or journalists" in Sierra Leone, she said.
 Some 94 per cent of all women ages 15-49 within Sierra Leone have undergone female circumcision, according to United Nations statistics. The painful operation is usually performed by traditional practitioners in the bush in a non-sterile environment.