A Special Appeal to Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

By: A.M. Peabody

This is a special appeal to President Johnson-Sirleaf and Liberia’s lawmakers, to ban the practice of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in Liberia.

As a Liberian native and an advocate against the practice of FGM/C, I feel compelled to make this appeal to the leaders of Liberia.  Although I have not lived in Liberia for the past thirty-six years, I continue to retain my childhood memories connectivity for Liberia.  Liberia remains close to my heart.  However I find it embarrassing each time the country is mentioned in the news, as one of the countries in Africa that has failed to ban FGM/C.

During my formative years, I was taught to be proud that Liberia was the leader in Africa; it was the first independent republic on the continent.  I was actually proud to be a Liberian.  Now I find myself embarrassed when I tell my colleagues in the West that I am originally from Liberia.  Do not mistake my previous statement however; I still hold that pride which was instilled in me as a child by my parents.  I just have lost the confidence in Liberia to protect its helpless residents and citizens.

I often wonder if President Johnson-Sirleaf and her lawmakers are aware that little girls live in fear when school is out of session.  Are they aware that girls are forced to run for their lives in the bushes to escape their circumcisers?  Are they aware of how many Liberian young women live with physical and psychological pain every day of their lives?  Are they aware of how many Liberian women were never able to bear children as the result of post-FGM/C trauma?

The time has come to reconsider the stubborn argument of upholding the traditions of the country.  Ritualistic killing was once a tradition that ran rampant in Liberia when I was a child.  Is that still being upheld today?  I am a firm believer of upholding proud cultural traditions, such as passing down the foods, dance, music, clothing, respect for others and oneself, and many other harmless traditions to the next generations.  However when a tradition kills innocent little girls or leaves them physically and psychologically scarred for life, (if they survive) such a tradition must be banned and enforced by law.

I realize that some Liberians and other Africans believe that the Westerners should leave our culture alone and allow us to practice it.  Liberia is one of the founding members of the United Nations, and should set the example on the continent.  Instead, the Presidents of Nigeria, Senegal, the Gambia, Burkina Faso and other such African countries have stepped forward and banned the practice in their countries, while Liberia, the Mother Republic remains steadfast in upholding the practice.  This has nothing to do with Westerners interfering with our culture; this is about the protection of little girls.

What is really the problem?  What is the real reason for not banning the practice of FGM/C in Liberia?  Or, as the preceding article from Waris Dirie states, it could be the fear of losing support in the upcoming 2017 Liberian elections.  President Johnson-Sirleaf should not have such concerns because she is at the end of her presidential term.  As the outgoing Head of State, she should do what the outgoing Nigerian President did last year; he banned the practice in his country, knowing that he was not being reelected.  Madam President, by banning FGM/C in your final term will give you credibility as a leader and as a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.  Would you want to leave office after twelve years of service as the first elected woman president of the continent, who failed to protect little Liberian girls from the excision of their womanhood?

I am appealing to you, Madam President to think of the innocent little girls in your country, and what this atrocious practice is doing to them.  As a mother and a grandmother, you in turn should make an appeal to all of the mothers and grandmothers of Liberia to stand up and commit to ending the practice of FGM/C.  One Liberian tradition that exhibits respect and high regard is when a woman is referred to as “Ma”, which means Mother.  The Liberians call you Ma Ellen; therefore they will listen and adhere to you when you urge them to stop practicing female circumcision.  Wouldn’t it be a great day in Liberia and its history?  Thank you, Madam President.