SIERRA LEONE: To Cut Or Not To Cut - Should That Be A National Issue?

Several Sierra Leonean organizations – Civil Society, Human Rights, Women’s Advocacy, Media and other groups including individuals have all sharpened their knives and cutlasses in readiness of "to cut or not to cut." Soweis and bondo girls’ fate now lie in the results of workshops, symposia and statements made by those whose responsibility it is to defend, protect and modernize Sierra Leone’s rich cultural heritage and the rights of the individuals including the right to choice.

Though the expression, which is a misrepresentation of the actual Bondo practice, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) seem to have widespread currency in NGO, UN quarters and in Western societies, it gives me more reasons to be critically skeptical of some of our liberated or educated sisters intension in forming or belonging to some of these groups.
Also it provides for those mercenary men who, for the right dollar, Euro, Pound or whatever foreign currency, will conceptualize projects that will make Good Friday looks like another Friday the 13th.

So what’s my point? My point is that I don’t want to be labeled “Pro” or  “Anti” this discussion topic, rather I want to dismiss those on either side of the divide as myopic, simplistic, sycophantic machinators and vile collaborators.  Otherwise with the myriad of socio-economic and political problems affecting women folks in Africa and in other developed countries,(Sierra Leone in particular) why just focus on something as trivial as whether “to cut or not to cut”?
The arguments put forward for or against the motion just don’t add up.  They do not make much sense, they are skewed or tilted towards donor’s dollars or traditional beliefs and not matter who finally wins this debate, the plight or women in the third world or in countries (where Bondo, Sande or whatever name that secret society or the act of cutting is called) will not be ameliorated.
If the Pro “to cut” wins or the supporters of “Not to Cut” become victorious, this will not give 30% access to women in the governance of Sierra Leone.  It will not provide for them access to clean pipe-borne water, capital for serious economic investment. It will not eradicate poverty among most women, it will not provide better health care services for our sisters, it will not exempt them from sexual and domestic violence, HIV/AIDS or make Malaria history.  It will not make Sanni Abacha Street (where most of our sister- drop-outs eke a living) into the Mall of Central Freetown.  It will not provide meaningful employment to hundreds of sisters who roam the streets of Freetown, office to office, hustling a living by daylight prostitution.
The outcome of this expensive debate or brainwashing will not reduce infant, child or maternal morbidity or mortality (contrary to widely held unsubstantiated views).  It will not stop women and children from being the most vulnerable in war, conflict or chaotic situations.
Therefore rather than the west (which normally sets the tone for poor countries’ socio-economic development discuss) spend million of their tax payers money to answer whether “To Cut or Not to Cut”, it would be more profitable and expedient to redirect its attention to more meaningful interventions.  And it is to this end I’d rather move this unfortunate discussion.
Thought I am shying away from engaging those ‘for’ or ‘against’ this discussion, I would like to highlight some of the points put forward by two individuals who recently contributed to the debate.  Talleyrand in his article in Standard Times of February 13, 2008 “Campaign to eliminate FGM is a disgrace to democracy” demonstrated how this campaign impinges on women’s right to choice – a fundamental tenet of democracy.  The article went further to state that: “To a large extent, it prevent her (meaning the girl child) from harmful occurrences and teaches her about motherhood.”
In my view, I think the Pro “Not to Cut” author pushes the argument a bit too far by such a sweeping generalization and complete disregard of the fact that children as young as three or four years are initiated into the secret society.  I would rather ask: what can an infant girl-child so young learn about motherhood at that tender age when initiated? Nothing obviously, therefore instead of initiating girls so young into any secret society, we should and must be advocating that they enjoy their childhood with toys and games and not exposing them to a Sowie’s knife.
Educated or not, we all owe it to posterity to protect our next generation of women from any forced activity. I’d rather have our women folk make the decision themselves whether to have it cut or not.  But to have parents or guardian make such a vital decision for their girl child or ward, is tantamount to child abuse.  And that must be made a criminal felon or whatever the lawyers would call it.
By the same token, I find Aisha Fofana Ibrahim’s article “Female Genital Mutilation Crisis: A Response” a little too exaggerated.  For her to argue that “My position is that even if only one women out of a thousand excised women dies, bleeds to death during child birth, or becomes sterile as a result of the procedure, we as women need to question the essence of the procedure”  is clear to me that she has missed some significant bits of the argument.
I recalled some years back while I was a student at Fourah Bay College, the learned professor Eustace Palmer of the English Department delivered a public lecture titled “In search of the Beast” as his take on how great African Leaders became demons when in power.  As a response, the great African History Scholar, Cecil Magbailey Fyle dismissed him by saying that Palmer used literacy fiction to explain historical facts and activities, or words to that effect.
Similarly, what Aisha Fofana Ibrahim has done is to use unsubstantiated modern hypocrisy theories to explain present health care service delivery inadequacies.  Otherwise where is her evidence that the high infant and maternal mortality is related directly to the cutting procedure? I would like to see those statistics, generated from the 1960s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and the 2000s that point fingers to the cutting procedures as the culprit for delayed placenta, bleeding and other complications in child births that lead to the loss of the mother or the child or both.  The reason why I am asking for this is to compare the statistics of those who had been “Cut” and those “Uncut” and calculate the ratio in terms of child birth deaths.
To my mind, this debate is a worthless exercise or display of academic superiority. Whether for or against, my brothers and sisters could better use their energies in advocating, educating and sensitizing the public at large and women in particular about the inefficiency of our health care delivery system that causes the deaths of so many women during child birth. This is more of a Human/Women’s Right issue than “the cutting procedure” is. Why not address more serious issue that will empower our sisters and the society generally.  Look around you and see the number of street children, those selling cole wata, those turned prostitutes (daylight and nightlife), those working in farms, factories, etc. Why not advocate for the Rights of the Child which will take care of child cutting procedure and leave adults to make up their own minds?
In any case, if all kontri women want to be cut, what can NGOs and Anti FGM activists do about it? When will they start advocating against “Dema Bleach” those girls and now some men who peel their skin with harsh crème to make themselves look like white folks? Are they waiting for the dollars, Euro and pounds from Europe, Asia and America? Well, it will not come, because those crème are produced by white folks and its good for their economies. Go figure!

SOURCE: African Path

AUTHOR: Ibrahim Labor Fofana

URL: Click here

DATE: 06/04/2008

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