A female journalist was snatched by members of a secret society, forcibly stripped and made to parade naked through the streets. It might sound like an atrocity from the time when Sierra Leone was ripped apart by a bloody civil war, but in fact the
public humiliation was exacted in the town of Kenema just this month. The woman's alleged crime was reporting on female genital mutilation.
While the attack was condemned by media watchdogs as disgraceful behaviour worthy of a bygone age, one woman who was not surprised was Rugiatu Turay. When she was 12 Ms Turay was stolen away by family members and underwent what some politely refer to as
circumcision . She calls it torture . For the past six years, she has been waging a war against the practice, which many in Sierra Leone, including senior politicians, see as an initiation rite.
Her organisation, the Amazonian
Initiative Movement, tries to protect young girls from the knife. I picked the name because I am trying to talk about strong, powerful women, she says Ms Turay, who works with her 20-strong staff in and around the northern town of Lunsar. So far,
she has persuaded about 400 practitioners of female genital mutiliation (FGM), who are often called soweis, to lay down their blades and stop their role in the traditional bondo ceremony. Silence means consent. But if you say the truth people listen
... We go to the schools, mosques, everywhere.
As reward for her tenacious efforts, she has received death threats and been attacked by juju men, sometimes armed with magic, sometimes with machetes. She describes a time when more than a
hundred people paraded a symbolic corpse outside her home to suggest her own death: They came right in front of me sharpening their cutlasses.
Ms Turay is among the estimated 94% of girls who undergo FGM in Sierra Leone. The practice –
which forms part of a ceremony of initiation rites overseen by women-only secret societies such as bondo and sande – can cause severe bleeding, infection, cysts and sometimes death, but is largely ignored.
Reasons for the process vary, but many
people cite tradition and culture, saying it is essential preparation for marriage and womanhood; binds communities to each other and to their ancestors; and restricts women's sexual behaviour.
The NHS is offering to reverse female circumcision amid concerns that there are 500 victims a year with no prosecutions
Despite having been outlawed in 1985, female circumcision is still practised in British African communities. Police have been
unable to bring a single prosecution even though they suspect that community elders are being flown from the Horn of Africa to carry out the procedures.
The advertisement will appear from next month on a Somali satellite TV station much viewed in
Britain. It features Juliet Albert, a midwife who does the reverse operations, and promises, in English and Somali, confidentiality for victims of female genital mutilation.
The advertisement was expected to help to undermine demand for girls to
be circumcised, and to popularise the reversal procedure, Ms Albert said. Thousands of such operations have been carried out at specialist clinics and hospitals around Britain and demand is growing slowly.
A study by the Foundation for Women's
Health, Research and Development (Forward), estimated that 66,000 women living in England and Wales had been circumcised, most before leaving their country of origin. The government-funded research also found that more than 7,000 girls were at a high
risk of being subjected to genital mutilation in Britain.
Sarah McCulloch, of the Agency for Culture Change Management UK, said that every year more than 500 British girls were having circumcisions. A lot of them are done in the UK, but some
still travel overseas, she said.
She said that a code of silence in Britain's African communities had allowed circumcisions to continue and prevented arrests. The unqualified female elders, known as house doctors because they act in
secret in a family home, are flown into the country: What the communities do is they gather together and collect money to pay for the ticket for a ‘doctor' to come from Somalia, Sudan, or whatever. And when she arrives here, she goes to a house and
has the girls brought to her.
Four out of ten Somali and Ethiopian women who give birth in the Netherlands have been genitally mutilated. This is relatively few, Health State Secretary Jet Bussemaker said.
The figures were recorded by research organisation TNO after
questioning midwives. The number of cases of female circumcision is fairly low, since nine out of ten women in the countries of origin have been circumcised, Bussemaker reasoned.
To obtain a better picture of female circumcision, the state
secretary previously announced that midwives would be registering this form of mutilation. They will also be trained in how to discuss circumcision with families.
Some 700 Mali activists, mostly women, have marched in favor of the introduction of laws to ban the practice of female genital mutilation (FMG) in Bamako.
The demonstrators presented the request directly to parliament. The long overdue initiative,
organized by the Coordination of women's NGO's in Mali, was repeated in other areas of the country, where more women also staged small gatherings.
The rate of FMG in Mali is very high, reaching some 92% said Nicola Giovannini of the No
Peace without Justice NGO to MISNA. Giovannini said that in Mali, there is a strong political consensus for a law to ban the practice, but authorities have so far suggested that Malian society itself is not yet ready to penalize this terrible and
very established practice. The participation in anti FMG protests suggests that there is an ever stronger – if long overdue - desire for change.
The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Liberian authorities to ensure the safety of journalists who have been repeatedly threatened for exposing the practice of female genital mutilation in the country.
Mae Azango, a reporter for the daily
FrontPage Africa and New Narratives, a project supporting independent media in Africa, told CPJ she had gone into hiding after receiving several threats for an article she published about Liberian tribes practicing female genital mutilation on as many as
two out of every three girls in the country. They left messages and told people to tell me that they will catch me and cut me so that will make me shut up, Azango said: I have not been sleeping in my house.
Wade Williams, the editor
of FrontPage Africa, said that several people around town had confronted her over the article, which was widely discussed on radio programs. Williams also said that the newspaper and its personnel were receiving threatening phone calls: They said that
for us putting our mouth into their business, we are to blame for whatever happens to us.
Liberian police must immediately investigate these threats and ensure the safety of Mae Azango and other FrontPage Africa staff, said CPJ Africa
Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita: The people behind these threats seem to be secure that they can act with impunity. Authorities must send a clear message that threats of violence are crimes, and that they will uphold the law.