Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly last week, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf made a commitment on gender equality and women’s empowerment. The commitment by President Sirleaf includes domestic violence and female genital mutilation. She promised to ensure that the domestic violence bill is passed into law, that female genital mutilation (FGM) is banned and to ensure the participation of women in politics in that West African nation. According to the report, Sirleaf committed to ensure the complete adherence to the enforcement of the ban on female genital mutilation; that is in light of the 2011 Law on Children which offers protection against all forms of violence, including FGM.
While Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation applauds the Liberian President for the long-awaited announcement against both domestic violence and female genital mutilation, the actual enactment of the ban remains to be seen. The President makes this announcement in the wake of the end of her tenure. During her administration, it has been noted that the President has been soft on the practice of female genital mutilation.
With the strong hold on the practice of FGM by the Sande Society in that country, it is not surprising that anti-FGM Liberians are pessimistic over their President’s recent announcement. Many countries on the continent of Africa have banned the practice of FGM, yet most of those countries continue to battle the practice. Egypt was the first country on that continent to ban the practice, but a thirteen year old girl lost her life last year to FGM in that country. Banning or outlawing the practice only puts the law on the books in a country; it does not guarantee eradication.
The most important factor is the enforcement of the law against this practice. Will the Liberian law authorities be able to enforce the law and bring perpetrators to justice? Many of the Liberian lawmakers are bonafide members of the Poro and Sande Societies. The Poro Society is the male version of the female Sande; the Sande Bush schools lead the practice of female genital mutilation in Liberia.
According to the reports, the Liberian President also promised to collaborate with the Liberian Legislature to pass the proposed Domestic Violence Act into law, which was endorsed by the Liberian Cabinet in June this year. It is currently before the lawmakers for enactment. The Bill defines Domestic Violence (DV) pursuant to Article 2 of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (VAW).