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IPU encourages dialogue among MPs in Sierra Leone with a view to ending FGM

FGM midwife

A midwife addresses colleagues in Sierra Leone

Sunday, 6 February is the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Every 10 seconds, somewhere in the world a girl falls victim to FGM. Four million girls are at risk of being excised every year. Even though FGM can be life-threatening to women, it remains deeply entrenched in some societies. This ancient practice, which, contrary to popular belief, is not encouraged by any religion, exposes young women to irreversible reproductive health risks. West and Central Africa is home to 17 out of the 27 African countries where FGM is prevalent, and more than 40 million girls and women have undergone FGM in the region. In Sierra Leone, the national FGM prevalence rate stands at 86.1 per cent.

In July 2021, the Sierra Leone Parliamentary Caucus on Female Genital Mutilation again met, with the support of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, to advance their vision of a nation where women and girls are free from all forms of FGM.

Previous efforts at criminalization have not come to pass. FGM intention is more common among women with no education, younger women, and women in the lowest wealth category. [i]  But the issue is not black and white, and interventions to end FGM need to focus on broader contextual and social norms. 

The IPU-supported Caucus on FGM was created to ensure continuity for further capacity building and giving voice to FGM abandonment efforts. This work is in line with SDG 5: achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. The mission of the Caucus is to be the conduit through which Sierra Leone puts an end to FGM. Its overall goal for the next three years is to engage with stakeholders and produce common knowledge and partnerships through consultations and parliamentary hearings.

Sierra Leone does not currently have any national law that explicitly prohibits and punishes FGM. The practice takes place as part of the initiation ceremony into Bondo Society membership. The Bondo Society is a secret society for women that has existed for hundreds of years and plays a major role in West Africa. It is an all women led and run group organized by ethnicity, with strong cultural and political values. The initiation ceremony publicly recognizes that a girl has become a woman in her community. FGM is the first act that is performed as part of the initiation ceremony.

Changing hearts and minds over a practice that is deeply entrenched is not easy. The Caucus’s work will be based on a spirit of dialogue and will build on the parliamentary responsibilities of representation and oversight. In the short term, the Caucus does not plan to draft legislation to outlaw FGM; its members first want to convince at the national level that Bondo can be valued and continue without FGM.

This February, the IPU will support training sessions to prepare the 60 members of the Caucus to promote awareness and engage with other parliamentarians and political leaders on the abandonment of FGM in their Regions and Districts. Members of the Caucus will also enhance their knowledge and skills to conduct consultations with Paramount Chiefs and Soweis (excisors) on how to delink FGM from Bondo.

This Zero Tolerance for FGM Day, the IPU reiterates its commitment to support the Caucus and the entire Sierra Leone parliament in their efforts against FGM.