—As Female Zoes from Montserrado surrender all Zoe materials
It was wonderfully organized traditional rituals at the Sonkai Town in Todee District, Montserrado County, when female traditional Sande Zoes dressed in all white, carefully guided by the Traditional Queen and culture Ambassador Liberia, Juli Endee marched forward and surrendered to the Chairman of the National Traditional Council of Liberia Chief Zanzan Kawor, thus signaling an end to Female Genitor Mutilation in Montserrado County.
The ceremony which took place on Friday, January 20, 2023 in Sonkai Town, Todee District, Montserrado Count, also marked the official suspension of all Sande activities in Montserrado County for three years including all operating licenses to all female Sande Zoes.
The decision to suspend Sande activities and put a halt to FGM was announced by the Chairman of the National Traditional Council of Chiefs and Elders of Liberia, Chief Zanzan Kawor. He said Female genitor mutilation was now officially and permanently banned in Montserrado County and the Sandi activities officially suspended in Montserrado for three years.
According to Chief Zanzan, Liberia is part of the global international community and a signatory to several international protocols including the rights of women, noting that Liberia cannot therefore stand against the decisions of the global community, making particular reference to the abolishment of female genitor mutilation, FGM.
He said it was against this backdrop that all chiefs, Zoes and paramount chiefs from the fifteen counties met in Ganta, Nimba County in 2019, resolved and all signed to suspend all Sandi activities in Liberia and that a sustainable livelihood projects must be initiated by the international community to sustain the Zoes, stressing that the decision to permanently extract the FGM component and suspend Sandi activities for three years in Liberia was a collective decision by all chiefs and Zoes of Liberia, only attested by him and the government.
“I do not have the power neither has the Minister of Internal Affairs the power to suspend Sandi Activities, it is your decision” Chief Zanzan added. Besides, Chief Zanzan said the three year suspension of Sandi Bush activities which has started with Montserrado County and the eventual elimination of genitor mutilation from the Sandi activities, do not anyway suggest that Sandi activities will not continue after three years.
He said the Sandi activities will continue following the three year suspension void of the genitor mutilation because Liberia has to work in conformity with the international community. Chief Zanzan also indicated that traditional childhood marriage will not be allowed any longer. However, the chief Traditional Ruler of Liberia called on the international community including the UN system to continue the small scale economic livelihood projects for traditional women in all counties to sustain the Zoes after they have abandoned female genitor mutilation in Liberia.
The ceremony took place under the theme, Closure Rituals of Initiation without Mutilation on Female Genitor Mutilation, FGM in Liberia, and was graced by several high profile personalities including the UN Women in Liberia headed by Madame Comfort Lamptey, the Minister of Gender, Children and Social protection, Madame Willamette Saydee Tarr, and Assistant Minister of Culture at the Internal Affairs, Mr. Joseph Jangar who represented the Minister.
The Closure Rituals of Initiation Without Mutilation on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Liberia is being implemented by the National Council of Chiefs and Elders of Liberia (NaCCEL).In collaboration with Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Ministry of internal affairs and UN Women with support Ambassador Jaha Bukureh, Women Activist and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador for Africa on Female Genital Mutilation (FEG) and Child marriage.
It is also being supported from the highest seat of government by President George Weah and Madam Jewel Howard Taylor, Vice President of the Republic of Liberia in commemoration of Female Genital Mutilation (FEG) day with focus on Sexual Gender Base Violence (SGBV).
In her ceaseless commendation for the Chiefs, Zoes and the Traditional Queen of Liberia, Ambassador Juli Endee and the FGM Taskforce which is also co-chaired by Am, by Endee, the Gender Minister described the abolition of FGM in Liberia which started with Montserrado County on January 20, 2023 as a dream come through. She said all Sandi activities will continue after the suspension but the FGM will not be part due to its harmful effects on women.
Meanwhile, the UN Women has promised to continuously partner with the traditional people to promote women empowerment and gender equality by organizing a profitable small scale empowerment program for the former Sandi Zoes that will also promote agriculture activities along with tie-and-dying. The UN Women’s Boss statement was delivered on her behalf by a UN women Representative at the occasion.
Female genitor mutilation has since been declared a harmful cultural practice that involves the removal or injury of female genitor organs for nonmedical reasons. It has also been declared a violation of human rights by the international community and have devastating consequences that include hemorrhaging, infections, chronic pain, childbirth complications and in some cases death. Inspite of this, an estimated 50 percent of women and girls in Liberia aged between and 49 years have undergone FGM, sometimes performed for financial as well as cultural reasons.
THE VISION OF AMBASSADOR JAHA
In the words of Jaha Dukureh: “As long as I am alive, I will wake up every single day and scream to the world that FGM is wrong and child marriage is not different from rape. Jaha Dukureh is the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador for Africa. A renowned activist, she herself is a survivor of female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage.
On 19 to 27 November 2022, Jaha undertook a mission to Liberia to support the Liberian Government in their efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, including harmful practices such as FGM and child marriage.
“I went through FGM when I was one week old. I have been a child bride twice in my life. The first time when I was married off, I was 15 years old. Girls like me don’t usually make it this far. She said one of the greatest honors of her life has been the appointment as UN Women Goodwill Ambassador for Africa. “I care about this work. It’s my life and passion. It’s about my daughter’s future and the future of girls in our continent”. She said.
Ambassador Jaha who hails from Gambia, said in her country alone, more than 77 per cent of women have already been subjected to FGM. Globally, it is estimated that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation. Every year, more than 600 million girls around the world are forced to get married against their will. “When you do this, you are giving another person the right to rape them over and over again”. She stressed.
She said hundreds of millions of girls have gone through some of the things she has been through but they never get the opportunity or the platform to stand in front of people and share their story and get seen and get heard. “It’s not an easy thing to come and share my story over and over again but I feel like someone has to do it. We cannot import solutions and expect change. Change has to be led by people with the lived experience that can stand up and say, we are against this for this reason because we know what it feels like and we have been through it”.
She added in a passionate manner, “This is why when it gets tough and I want to give up, I really can’t do it because I know that if I give up it will be harder for the next girl to stand up. As long as I am alive, I will wake up every single day and scream to the world that FGM is wrong, and scream to the world that child marriage is not different from rape. We all have a moral obligation to ensure that violence against women ends. We can do this through advocacy. We can do this through individual work. We cannot stay silent”. She concluded.