What Is the Status of FGM/C and the Liberian Ministry of Gender?

It was more than a year and a half ago when the Liberian Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection announced that she wanted female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C) banned in her country.  Minister Julia Duncan Cassell told the Liberian Daily Observer in January 2016 that she was prepared to submit an Act to the Liberian National Legislature.  The Act was to have the practice of FGM/C criminalized in Liberia.  The aforementioned Act also included traditional practices associated with domestic violence in that country.

The Liberian Minister of Gender made that announcement not long after the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had said that “Liberia’s human rights obligations must take precedence over any local practice considered to be ‘cultural’ or traditional’ where such practices are incompatible with human rights principles.” The U.N. High Commissioner had called on the Liberian Government to abolish any cultural or traditional practices that violate the human rights of people.  The traditional practices included female genital mutilation, forced initiation into secret societies, witchcraft accusations, and trials by ordeal and ritualistic killings.

The Minister of Gender had hoped that her Act would be passed into law, and that the practice of FGM/C would be criminalized in Liberia.  The Act also included that if a woman or girl did not consent to be cut or mutilated, it would be a criminal act.

It is certain that the Liberian Ministry of Gender realizes that in spite of the popularity of traditional practices in that country, some of such practices are dangerous to women, men and children alike.  The practices of FGM/C, domestic violence and other forms of gender based violence have taken on many other forms in today’s West Africa.  Although these traditional practices have been deeply rooted in Liberian society for over a century, those practices are still considered serious social evils and crimes against innocent women and girls in modern day society.

So, what really happened to the Act that was presented to the Liberian Legislature last year from the Minister of Gender to criminalize the practice of female genital mutilation and cutting?  According to reports, the Act presented was revised by the National Legislature of Liberia, by removing the Article to have FGM/C criminalized.  The Liberian Legislature passed all other Sections and Articles in the Act, but removed the references to FGM/C before passing it.

The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection was established in 2001 by an Act of the Liberian National Legislature. This Ministry was established to serve as a driving force of the Liberian Government to practice the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its related instruments, including the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); the Convention on the Rights of Children (CRC); the AU Protocols on Women and Children, on Women Peace and Security; and the Beijing Platform for Action.
The Ministry was mandated to advise Government on all matters affecting the development and welfare of women and children as well as any other matters referred to it by the Liberian Government.  If this Ministry was mandated by the Liberian Legislature to secure the safety of women and children, and to seek the interests and welfare of women and children; how then did the same Legislature which appointed the Ministry overlook its recommendation to ban such a heinous practice against little girls?

Liberia remains one of the three West African countries that have continued the practice of female genital mutilation and cutting, without a law against it.  The practice of FGM/C is part of the traditional rite of passage to womanhood in that West African country, in spite of the fact that it is harmful, and in some cases, can cause death.  Only a few months ago, a 16-year old girl died as a result of undergoing FGM/C in Liberia.  The coroner’s report claimed that her death was due to natural causes, even though she hemorrhaged to death.  How then can that be considered a natural cause?

In her message to the U.N. General Assembly in September 2015, the Liberian President made a commitment to banning gender violence, including FGM/C in her country.  It was commendable to see that President Johnson Sirleaf was going to keep her commitment in that regard.  However her Legislature had other ideas in mind.  The members of the Liberian Legislature embarrassed their President when they refused to honor her commitment to the U.N. General Assembly, when they deleted the Article on banning FGM/C from the Act presented by the Gender Ministry.  The problem with the Liberian Legislature and female genital mutilation and cutting is that majority of the Legislators are also members of the male traditional society, the Poro.  The Poro Society is the male partner society of the female Sande Society.  The Sande is the official practicing entity of FGM/C in Liberia.

The Global Woman Newsletter has run several stories about the practice of FGM/C in Liberia over the years.  The question remains, will this country ever criminalize this atrocious practice?  Liberia is currently in a competitive presidential campaign, with about twenty or more candidates, vying for the Liberian Presidency.  Everyone wonders why the current President, a woman has not banned this practice.  The fact of the matter is woman or man at the head of Liberia, there is no guarantee that she or he will ban FGM/C in that country.  As long as the Legislature is occupied by members of the Poro and Sande Societies, there will always be a question mark next to the banning FGM/C in Liberia.  As long as FGM/C remains a legal practice in Liberia, the Global Woman Newsletter will continue to speak out against traditional atrocities in that West African nation.

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