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Monday, September 27, 2010

Sierra Leone: Anti-FGM Campaign Heats Up

Friday September 24, 2010
The Patriotic Vanguard, Sierra Leone News Portal
Maada Gumbu

Katanya Women’s Development Association (KAWDA) one of the leading advocates against Female Genital Mutilation in Sierra Leone has intensified its campaign against the age-old practice despite stiff resistance from traditionalists.
Ann-Marie Caulker, the Executive Director of KAWDA says, “We are not against people in the Bondo Secret Society which practices FGM, but it is the crude way it is done and the resultant effects that are of concern to us.”
She says many children have lost their lives during FGM ceremonies. The age-old practice has been part of Sierra Leonean culture since the pre-colonial era. However, not everything is bad about the society. Some women are taught positive things during the initiation ceremony.
They are taught motherhood, how to become good house wives, cultivation of good citizenship, the role of a woman in society, herbalism and other good virtues that need to be imbibed by women. This is to ensure that by the time they enter marriage they would have learnt many things that they need to know about the real world.
But the FGM practice which has led to harmful effects, has over the past decades aroused concern both locally and across the international scene. Some of the harmful effects that have been observed to result from the practice are: pregnancy- related complications as a result of injuries sustained during the process, contracting HIV/AIDS, chronic infection and in extreme cases deaths, which in many instances are not reported to the police. The practice is common in all the regions of Sierra Leone; even in the capital, Freetown.
Far away at Njala, in the Moyamba district, southwest of the country, some girls were forcibly initiated five months ago and one had to be hospitalized. Another girl, Trina Fatima Kposowa (photo) escaped and has not been seen since. An alarm was raised in the town for her capture, but was nowhere to be found. Some of her relatives were accused of harboring her, an allegation they stoutly rejected. The leader of the Bondo secret society warned that Trina Fatima Kposowa had already become privy to the secrets of the society which is not open to non-initiates and therefore allowing her to go away without initiation would bring evil on the town and the society leaders. She threatened to search for her by all means and pointed out that wherever the girl went there are Bondo Secret society members there, so it was a folly for her to run away.
A new law has been enacted in Sierra Leone making it unlawful for a girl below eighteen years to be initiated. In other words, she has to reach the age in which she can freely make a choice of her own ; whether to be initiated or not. But Anti-FGM campaigners say even at eighteen, girls face the risk of dying especially with the crude method of mutilation. They pointed out that in many rural areas there are no medical facilities and the blades used are most times rusty and contagious. Some campaigners have pointed out the painful ordeals girls have revealed. Female Genital Mutilation is also known as Female Genital Cutting.
Apparently, this (the cutting) has been the cause for Trina Fatima Kposowa’s flight. Campaigners, including KAWDA, say successive governments have been reticent over the issue because of political reasons. Either they fear resistance from the members or because of massive support for the society they are a force to reckon with in the political dispensation of the country. Any attempt to offend the members will apparently lead to social disorder or political suicide.
The family of Trina Fatima is reported to be worried about her whereabouts. Campaigners say something needs to be done about the situation. “If she is seen today, she will definitely be initiated,” says one family member.