Did You Know…? Liberia – Stubborn to End FGM

This column of “Did You Know…” is intended to help inform and educate our readers on the practice of FGM.  Last week, we reviewed the heroines of Somalia against the practice of female genital mutilation from that country.  This week, we will take a look at the West African Republic of Liberia, and to what extent FGM is practiced there.

With forty-three thousand square miles of coastal land, and a population of two million, Liberia is bordered by Sierra Leone, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and the Atlantic Ocean.  Although Liberia has had a woman leader for longer than two decades, this country remains unmoved by the world’s pleas to outlaw the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM).  It is the opinion of some Liberians that President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is “soft” on the excisors of FGM.

According to statistics released more than a decade ago, Liberia’s FGM practicing rate was at twenty-six percent; in recent years that percentage has increased to almost eighty-six percent.  These figures are alarming since they demonstrate that the practice of FGM continues to increase in Liberia.

The most widespread practice of FGM in Liberia is carried out by the Sande Society, a deeply rooted secret society in that country.  The Sande Bush, more commonly referred to as the Grebo Bush teaches the role of a wife, farming, sexual matters, dancing, music and basket-making to the girls.  The training period lasts for six months to three years, depending on the ethnic group. But training is not the only thing of which the girls undergo in the Sande Bush.  Clitoridectomy and labiadectomy are the key performance by female excisors, referred to as Zoes in the Sande Bush.  A Liberian man once remarked, “Female Genital Mutilation and the Sande society go hand in hand. It is difficult, if not impossible, to get rid of this time-tested tradition in Liberia.  Asking the Zoes to abandon this age-old tradition is like telling someone to stop eating his or her favourite meal. As long the Zoes live the Sande will continue to influence the role of women in Liberia.”  Where then, does that leave the future of little Liberian girls?