The abduction and intimidation of four women journalists took place in the eastern city of Kenema on 6 February by members of a women’s secret society that practices female genital mutilation (FGM). (Reporters without Borders)One of the journalists was forced to walk naked through the city’s streets. “Such disgraceful behaviour worthy of a bygone age is very damaging to Sierra Leone’s image,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We urge the president to personally intervene in this case to ensure that the perpetrators receive an exemplary punishment. We also urge the minister of social welfare, gender and children’s affairs, Haja Musu Kandeh, to take note of this incident, which is very traumatic for all women in Sierra Leone.”
The four reporters – Manjama Balama-Samba of the United Nations radio and the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS), Henrietta Kpaka of the SLBS, Isha Jalloh of Eastern Radio and Jenneh Brima, also of Eastern Radio – were kidnapped on 6 February by members of Bondo, a secret society that practices FGM. The next day, their abductors forcibly undressed Balama-Samba and made her walk naked through the streets.
There are simply no words for this, particularly in light of the fact that elected officials in the region just agreed to end FGM with assurances that its practice would be prosecuted!
From All Africa:
“About 500 girls were circumcised in Sebei region over the Christmas period, a sharp rise in Female Genital Mutilation from just 90 in the previous circumcision season.
Bukwo and Kapchorwa local leaders said 490 girls aged between 10 and 21 years underwent the ritual that now involves the removal of not only the clitoris but also the entire labia.
The removal of the labia is an influence from the Kenyan Pokot who live side by side with the Sebei. The removal of the entire labia does not only cause excessive bleeding, but also exposes the girls to more chronic infections, painful sexual intercourse and more complications during child birth.”
From All Africa:
“Thousands of young girls annually prepare for their initiation into a women’s secret association, Sande Society, which operates mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
As part of their initiation, young women take a vow of secrecy after weeks of training in the forest, promising not to not tell uninitiated girls or men what happens to them, to assume new names, and to have their clitorises cut off – known as female genital mutilation (FGM) – according to women in the secret society.
About half of Liberia’s some 16 ethnic groups, including the Bassa, Mende, Gola and Kissi, observe the rules of this historically-secret, centuries-old society.
I first read this story early last week, the day before I participated in a panel discussion about violence against women at the University of Louisville (KY). One of the other panelists, Karina Barillas of the Louisville Center for Women and Families, spoke eloquently about how it is so easy to talk about the awful violence that takes place against women in other countries while being blind to what happens in our own country, something which is illustrated all too well by the story of Alima Traore, a woman who was subjected to Female Genital Mutilation as a young girl in Mali.
She has been living in the U.S. on a student visa and recently applied for asylum in the U.S. The Board of Immigration appeals rejected her plea with the following explanation:
“It ruled that she did not face persecution there, because the cutting, while “reprehensible,” could not be repeated. “The loss of a limb also gives rise to enduring harm,” the board said, but it would not be a good enough reason to grant asylum.The board also said that Ms. Traore’s fear that any daughters she might have would be subjected to similar barbarity was of no moment. Nor did it matter that Ms. Traore’s father has said he will force her to marry a first cousin – his sister’s son.
“My decision is irrevocable,” her father, Elhadj Traore, wrote to her in 2004. “The dowry has been paid, and all the Traore clan agrees. The animal sacrifice has been made for the village.”
“Lauri Steven Filppu, writing for a three-member panel of the immigration board, was measured in his sympathy.”It is understandable,” he wrote, that Ms. Traore, “an educated young woman, would prefer to choose her own spouse rather than acquiesce to pressure from her family to marry someone she does not love and with whom she expects to be unhappy. The respondent has also expressed valid concerns about possible birth defects resulting from a union with her first cousin.”
“While we do not discount the respondent’s concerns,” Mr. Filppu continued, “we do not see how the reluctant acceptance of family tradition over personal preference can form the basis” for allowing Ms. Traore to stay in the United States.”
We presume Mr. Filppu is talking about the personal preference not to get anywhere near the people who cut out your vulva and clitoris and would force you into a lifetime of marriage against your will, and forcibly put you at risk of bearing children with genetic defects. In what way could that not be considered a human rights violation??
Unfortunately, the story of Alima Traore is a tragic example of the U.S. enabling the culture of impunity that allows violence against women to continue, both in our own country and all over the word, and sadly illustrates the point Barillas was making.
The following film was released by The Population Council in conjunction with the International Day Of Zero Tolerance To Female Genital Mutilation on February 6th.
–Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is the cutting, removal, and sometimes sewing up of external female genitalia for cultural or other nontherapeutic reasons. It can be performed as early as infancy and as late as age 30.
–Most women (80 percent) who undergo this procedure have most or all of their clitoris removed and some or all of the labia minora cut off as well.
–Another 15 percent of women undergo infibulation, the removal of part or all of the external genitalia and the stitching/narrowing of the vaginal opening.
–An estimated 100 million to 140 million girls and women worldwide have undergone female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and more than 3 million girls are at risk for cutting each year on the African continent alone.
–Practitioners of FGM/C range from traditional healers who use crude instruments without anesthetics to trained providers in health care facilities.
–Health consequences differ according to the type and severity of the procedure performed.
Short-term difficulties include severe pain, shock, hemorrhage, urine retention, ulceration of the genital region, and injury to adjacent tissue. Hemorrhage and infection can cause death.
–Long-term consequences include psychological trauma, a feeling of incompleteness, and anxiety and depression; difficulties during childbirth; cysts and abscesses; keloid scar formation; damage to the urethra resulting in urinary incontinence; painful sexual intercourse; and sexual dysfunction.