Marian G. Deah is an Executive with the Women Solidarity, Incorporated, located in Monrovia, Liberia in West Africa. In the following An Exclusive interview, Ms. Deah speaks candidly about the living conditions in Liberia and the state of FGM/C and education affairs in that country. Liberia is one of three countries on the Continent of Africa that have not yet banned the practice of FGM/C.
GWPF: Marian, tell us about the Women Solidarity in Liberia.
Marian Deah: Women Solidarity Incorporated (WOSI) is a non-profit national women-driven civil society organization mostly run by women. The organization was founded on May 22, 2006 by a group of women’s rights activists in Monrovia, Liberia. It was principally formed to mitigate abuses and exploitation of women and girls and to assist them to overcome undeserving circumstances; to successfully transition to a stable and dignified livelihood that makes them more relevant to themselves, families and society. WOSI exists to assist and fill in the gap of limited knowledge on women’s rights, and the lack of empowerment opportunities for women and girls; as provided for by local, national and international protocols, laws and inventions on the rights of women. Over the years WOSI has been working for and enabling environment of equal opportunities, empowerment and respect for all women in Liberia. Our work in the communities has helped more women to know and stand up for their rights, provided empowerment opportunities for needy women and girls and is creating an emerging woman-friendly society.
GWPF: You seem to be a very busy lady. What is the mission of Women Solidarity?
Marian Deah: Our mission is to create an enabling environment where women rights are protected; women are given equal opportunities regardless of their status in society, geographical location, ethnic and religious background.
GWPF: You attended the End Violence against Girls: FGM/C Summit this past December in Washington, D.C. How did that experience help with your work in Liberia though the Women Solidarity?
Marian Deah: The summit has reinforced my passion to work harder for the end of FGM in my Country, Liberia and to end violence against girls. It has provided additional knowledge and strategies for my organization’s anti-FGM campaign as it moves forward in advocating on women’s behalf in the community where we work. The summit has also exposed my organization to likeminded organizations and individuals as well as strengthening our networking opportunities in the efforts to push for the end of FGM in Liberia and the world at large.
GWPF: We are glad that the Summit was helpful to you. How else can advocates in the U. S. help your work in Liberia?
Marian Deah: Advocates in the U.S. can help with our work in Liberia through many ways: 1) Advocate for funding to our programs; 2) provide technical and pro bono assistance for our organization; 3) highlight the situations of FGM and women’s rights issues in Liberia in the media; 4) connect us with other likeminded organizations, donors and individuals supporting ant-FGM, gender based violence, girls education and women’s rights work.
GWPF: Very good. What part of Liberia are you from?
Marian Deah: I hail from the North Eastern part of Liberia, Nimba County to be specific.
GWPF: Tell us about life in Liberia. What is it like in that Country today?
Marian Deah: Living conditions in Liberia are difficult. The economic situation in our country now makes it difficult to make life easy. Presently the unemployment rate is high and families can’t afford more than one meal a day for a living. It is not easy to get job in Liberia today because the merit system remains a challenge and even those who are working, their take-home pay is not enough to sustain their families.
GWPF: According to reports, for a girl to attain primary and secondary education in Liberia remains a major challenge. Why do you think it is such a challenge?
Marian Deah: It is a challenge because girls are faced with many barriers: For example:
- a) Harmful traditional practices, including early marriage. At the younger age girls are pulled out of school either with or without the consent of their parents to be initiated into the Sande Society, where FGM is practiced. Most of them are unlucky to return to school after initiation. They are forced into marriage at an early age and begin to bear children. b) Sexual Exploitation and Abuse. Some of the girls who have the opportunity to go to school are somewhat exploited and/or abused by their teachers or care takers for grades, hindering the learning process for them and sometime causing them to drop out of school. c) Lack or limited financial support to girls’ education. Many girls find it difficult to start and continue in school due to lack of financial support. The present living conditions in Liberia where many of the parents are unemployed and unable to sustain their families also remain a challenge for girls’ education. d) Peer pressures and teenage pregnancies – many girls are carried away by their friends refusing to acquire knowledge through formal education. They would rather seek material things and live a big girl’s lifestyle, thus getting involved with acts that sometime lead to unwanted pregnancies at an early age, leaving them with no alternative but to become a mother by chance.
The above reasons are few of the challenges for a girl to attain primary and secondary education in Liberia.
GWPF: United Nations reports show that girls below age 10 are pulled out of school by traditionalists to undergo initiation ceremonies, which include female genital mutilation. Would you please elaborate on this?
Marian Deah: That is true; FGM initiation does take place when regular schools are in session. Most of the FGM practitioners with or without the consent of parents pull girls out of school for initiation. This is common basically in the rural areas where girls’ education is not a priority. Most of the girls who are initiated never have a second chance to return to school, which is unfortunate and degrading.
GWPF: You recently visited Tappita in Nimba County in connection with the 16-year old girl that died allegedly from an initiation. Was that initiation related to FGM?
Marian Deah: Yes the initiation was actually related to FGM. The 16 year old victim was forcibly initiated into the Sande Society by an FGM practitioner (Power Daywoe) which led to her untimely death in Fahnlay Town, Tappita District.
GWPF: How much responsibility should be placed on the leaders of Liberia to end FGM?
Marian Deah: I think much more responsibility needs to be placed on our leaders in order to have them involved with ending the practice of FGM in our country because Liberia is a signatory to almost all of the protocols and conventions that forbid the practice of FGM. Though there is a limited political will by the leaders to end the practice domestically, I think when more pressure is brought to bear on them, there can be a breakthrough.
GWPF: Do you think that Liberia will ever ban the practice of FGM?
Marian Deah: Yes, I am sure and confident that Liberia will ban FGM one day and that day is very near. With the level of work done by our organization and other civil society actors through awareness and advocacy about the practice of FGM; more of the population is developing second thought to the practice. Additionally, with the level of agitation being done for an Anti-FGM law in Liberia in the past three years, resulting to include a section in the proposed Domestic Violence Act; criminalizing the practice based on age and consent, and the pending Anti-FGM exclusive bill, I know that Liberia will someday have a law banning FGM.
GWPF: We can only hope. With the firm hold that the Sande Society has in Liberia, what will it take to convince them to stop the practice of FGM?
Marian Deah: First of all, we need a massive awareness campaign with the practitioners and other stakeholders, including the men and youth about the importance of positive culture; and the effects of harmful cultural practices, such as FGM, emphasizing that the campaign is not against the Sande Society but the practice of FGM. This is because, the Sande Society is said to be a tradition that prepares girls to be good house wives according the practitioners. Secondly, there is a need for alternative livelihoods to be given to the practitioners/cutters, who have volunteered to let go of the practice. This will enable them to transition from the practice to other means of living because this serves as survival for them. “Transform and maintain your Sande but do away with mutilating the girls” could be the theme of the campaign.
GWPF: Very good idea. Based on what we know, FGM has always been most prevalent in Bong, Lofa and Cape Mount Counties. Why is there a sudden rise in Nimba County for the practice of FGM?
Marian Deah: FGM has been practiced in 10 counties (Margibi, Montserrado, Nimba, Bong, Lofa, Gbapolu, Rivercess, Grand Cape Mount and Bomi) from time in memorial. The practice is now surfacing in the 11th county (Grand Geddeh). Nimba is flagged in recent time because of the sudden rise in FGM-related incidents in that county.
GWPF: Ten counties! Do you think there will ever be a world free of FGM?
Marian Deah: Yes I know there will be a world free of FGM one day. If we have strong advocacy and increase awareness remain the order of our work, coupled with the establishment of a global task force on FGM. This would ensure that countries who are signatory to the protocol and conventions that profit from the practice of FGM enforce domestic laws banning the practice around the world. Secondly, if we can target the youth who may possibly replace the aging FGM practitioners in our awareness-raising and prioritize formal education in every country, we can be certain of having a world without FGM.
GWPF: Very good, Marian. What role would Marian Deah play in freeing the world from FGM?
Marian Deah: My role will always remain initiating and working with others to create awareness about the effects of FGM in communities with cross-section of stakeholders, and execute other related activities aimed at ending the practice. I will also continue to advocate for national laws banning the practice nationally and globally through my organization, Women Solidarity, Inc.
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