WIPSEN-Africa on the Article: 'Sierra Leone: Chiefs Ban Genital Cutting for Girls  Under 18

In responding to the newspaper (IRIN) report of 16th April, 2009, which carried the caption: 'Sierra Leone: Chiefs ban genital cutting for girls under 18', the Accra-based Women Peace and Security Network-Africa (WIPSEN-Africa) joins other organizations working on women peace and security to express deep appreciation to the Chiefs of Kambia District in the Northern Province for the laudable step they have taken towards ensuring the enjoyment of girls' basic human rights to be free from torture. WIPSEN-Africa believes that this is, to a very large extent, progress for women's work. Though we acknowledge the fact that the extension of the age limit does not mean eradication, we recognize that this will give the girls/ women a choice and the freedom to decide for themselves whether or not they want to undergo the traditional cutting process. Furthermore, it will go a long way in affording more girls the opportunity to complete school thus contributing to the reduction in early/forced marriages at least for the Kambia District. WIPSEN-Africa acknowledges the fact that FGM is deeply rooted in the culture/traditions of the people in Sierra Leone. By this singular action, the Chiefs in Kambia are saying that any culture that denies women and girls their basic rights to education and choice has to be revisited. This is because it is a well known fact that most of these teenage girls stop going to school after they are subjected to FGM. It is envisaged that girls from that district will be allowed to complete school. While a positive first step, more needs to be done. FGM is a political issue since it is tied to votes in Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government elections. We however call on the actors especially the Civil Society Organizations involved in this great campaign to intensify more action towards its eradication since they have no votes to lose.   Past and present governments do not want to be involved in the campaign for the eradication of FGM for fear that the opposition parties will use it against them. In the draw down to UNAMSIL in December 2006, a Human Rights Conference was organized where  a former Parliamentarian told one of the international facilitators that he would not talk about FGM in his constituency because that would put him out of parliament. He further said that discussions on FGM should start after the 2007 Presidential and Parliamentary elections. The struggle is far from finished. Let us keep up the fight against the unjustifiable violence against women and girls. 

By: Susan Sesay