SIERRA LEONE: Most Sierra Leone Parliamentary, Presidential Candidates Unwillling to Speak Against Female Genital Cutting

Although many women and girls in Sierra Leone undergo female genital cutting, legislators hoping to be elected to the country's Parliament on Saturday are not speaking out against the practice, Inter Press Service reports. According to Amnesty International, about 90% of women and girls in the country undergo the procedure (Carter, Inter Press Service, 8/8).

Female genital cutting -- sometimes referred to as female circumcision or female genital mutilation -- is a practice in which there is a partial or full removal of the labia, clitoris or both. About 6,000 girls undergo the practice daily worldwide, and the World Health Organization estimates that 100 million to 140 million women worldwide are circumcised. At least 90% of women who undergo genital cutting live in developing countries -- such as Djibouti, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan -- while almost no women undergo the practice in Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, according to UNICEF (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 7/12).

According to Inter Press Service, many communities in Sierra Leone support genital cutting, and secret women's societies called Bondos use the practice to initiate girls into womanhood. Parliamentary candidates are not speaking out against the practice because they need the support of Bondo members to win the election, according to Inter Press Service. In addition, some candidates are concerned that criticism of genital cutting could be equated with criticism of initiating girls into womanhood -- a tradition that is central to many communities.

Of the seven political parties sponsoring a presidential candidate, only one -- the National Democratic Alliance -- has spoken out against genital cutting. Ernest Koroma, the presidential candidate for the All People's Congress Party, has said he would work to uphold the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which calls for a ban on genital cutting. Although the government signed the convention, it has not banned the practice.

Deputy Social Welfare Minister Momunatu Koroma said that even if a ban were passed, the practice likely would continue. "Some things like [genital cutting] you cannot do away with in one day," Momunatu Koroma said. The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs is seeking to establish an age of consent to undergo genital cutting, and no one who reached that age would be forced to undergo the practice, according to Inter Press Service. In addition, the government is conducting education campaigns to raise awareness about the effects of genital cutting. Momunatu Koroma added that education programs should "engag[e] the stakeholders" and consult with "paramount chiefs, with the Bondo leaders, with husbands, the families" (Inter Press Service, 8/8).

SOURCE: Kaiser

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DATE: 16/08/2007

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