This past Thursday morning, U.S. Senator Harry Reid held a press briefing at the U.S. Capitol to discuss the state of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in the United States. He told the audience that not enough Americans know what FGM/C is. He said, “Many Americans have not even heard of FGM or they think it is a far away problem.” Senator Reid continued, “Although it is illegal, it does happens here, and we should not stand for it. There are a number of actions our government can take right now to address FGM.” Flanked by Shelby Quast of Equality Now and Jaha Dukureh of Safe Hands for Girls at the podium, Senator Reid stressed the fact that the United States is too far behind when it comes to the practice of FGM/C.
In addition, Senator Reid also had a stunning announcement that there will be the first FGM Summit held in Washington, D.C. this December. The summit will be hosted by the U.S. FGM Network, which comprises of several NGOs in the United States.
When given the microphone, Jaha Dukureh, the Founder of Safe Hands for Girls pointedly stressed the need for funding to small grassroots community organizations. Dukureh said that it is these community organizations that actually do the much needed work, and not the mega organizations.
While Senator Reid, Jaha and Shelby addressed the press, breaking news came out of Liberia, West Africa that a hundred and ten (110) girls had just been genitally mutilated/cut only days before. The girls were taken out of conventional school and placed in the Sande Bush School for the purpose of forcibly genitally mutilating/cutting them. It was only four months ago, in the same village of Grand Cape Mount County, when three little girls successfully escaped their would-be exciser. It is unfortunate that the 110 little girls recently excised in the same village in Grand Cape Mount County were not able to flee from their excisers. Now the world has another 110 girls left to live with the consequences of FGM/C.
The Sande Society Bush, also known as Zadεgi, Bundu, Bundo and Bondo, is a women’s secret society in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and the Ivory Coast. The Sande society initiates girls into adulthood by several rituals, including female genital mutilation/cutting. The Poro Society is the male equivalent of the Sande in those same West African countries. The Sande Society controls the practice of FGM/C in Liberia and its neighbors, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast.
Although the governments of both Guinea and Ivory Coast have banned the practice in those countries, a ten year old girl died last month in Guinea as a result of FGM/C. The governments of Liberia and Sierra Leone have yet to ban the practice of FGM/C in those two countries. According to inside sources in Liberia, the Sande Society has nothing to fear as far as having little girls’ genital removed. They boldly and openly practice FGM/C, since they have full support of the Liberian government and its leaders.
Hiding behind culture and tradition is a lame excuse to continue the practice of FGM/C in any country. Upholding the cultural traditions of a country should be teaching the young generations the cultures and traditions of which they can be proud; traditions they can pass down to their own children. A tradition that causes death, a lifetime of pain and agony, emotionally and physically must be discontinued. The tradition of practicing FGM/C is embarrassing and archaic. The uneducated and uninformed have an excuse; they do not know and have not been educated on the dangers of the practice. What is the excuse of the highly educated and well informed?