By: Varney Dukuly
MONROVIA: Following years of peaceful dialogue between traditional leaders and state authorities in collaboration with international partners as it relates to the traditional practices that are allegedly harmful, there seems to be a prevalence of peace among all stakeholders.
As international pressure mounts for Liberia to abolish harmful traditional practices, scores of traditional leaders in Montserrado County and beyond have unanimously agreed to stop Female Genital Mutilation practices for the next three years across all bush schools in the country.
The agreement which will also see the closure of a traditional training sites (Sande schools) followed intense deliberations involving traditional leaders, state actors and international partners.
“The thing that we are talking about is Montserrado County business. The place Montserrado County stops, no Sande business there again,” said Chief Zanzan Karwor.
The overwhelming endorsement of the measure, according to chief Karwor, is predicated upon documents, bearing the signatures of chiefs and elders of Liberia.
Chief Karwor said, the Traditional Council of Liberia, in consultation with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and as part of efforts to end the practice will take back all licenses in the possession of Zoes and traditional leaders here.
“I say go and tell all Zoes that they must lay hands on all traditional practices in Montserrado County. We, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs will take back all licenses from Zoes who were operating schools in Montserrado County,” he stressed.
Though the government and partners succeeded in placing temporary suspension on the practice in Montserrado County; the menace which causes harm for women and girls remains in other counties.
Liberia’s big Zoe, Chief Karwor, among other things, admonished his fellow Zoes to avoid some of the harmful traditional practices in other parts of Liberia.
“I personally tell the Minister (Gender) that any Zoe who violates this new suspension in Montserrado County will be prosecuted culturally. We don’t take Zoe to court,” he stressed.
Gender Minister Williametta Piso Tarr showered praises on the traditional leaders, describing their intervention as a dream comes true.
“I am just happy that we are at this place where we started in 2018,” the Minister said.
She mentioned that as a traditional child, she knows far too well that reaching thus far was as a result of respect for the Zoes and Elders.
“We want to thank all of our partners for the support. We will do everything to protect our culture and at same time get rid of harmful traditional practices.”
A local civil society group, Equality Now, welcomes the initiative.
Equality Now’s Regional Coordinator for Africa, Judy Gitau said “This is a welcome step. Civil Society Organizations have continuously raised concerns about the harmful effects of Female Genital Mutilation.”
Gitau, among other things, stressed that FGM causes girls and women life-long physical and psychological traumas, including depression.
“FGM is a human rights violation. However, it is deeply entrenched within the Liberian culture and the move by traditional leaders to abandon FGM as a practice in totality is a clear annotation of their recognition that FGM indeed has detrimental effects on young women and girls.”
FGM is a human rights abuse that continues to affect the lives of millions of women and girls around the world, particularly Africa.
The World Bank estimates that as of 2020, Liberia had a prevalence rate of 31.8%.
Although Liberia is party to a number of international and regional human rights conventions and protocols calling for the protection of women and girls from FGM, such as the Maputo Protocol, which in Article 5, calls explicitly on State Parties to ban all forms of FGM through legislative measures, which Liberia ratified in 2008, although the country does not have a law prohibiting FGM for all ages.