Fighting FGM in Sierra Leone

Our volunteer Nancy Kebe has just returned from her five-week trip to Sierra Leone where, in addition to doing charitable work distributing urgently needed food, clothing and other goods to the poor and needy around the country, she launched our pilot project to educate the people on the actual teachings of Islam regarding the culturally persistent practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). There were no reliable Internet connections in the villages in which she worked so this is the first opportunity she has had to tell us about the success of our pilot project to bring an authentic Islamic perspective to a sensitive issue that has provided fodder to Islamophobes spreading disinformation about Islamic law.

She carried 200 copies of our pamphlet on the subject and before leaving underwent training on how to broach the subject with the people as a question of Shariah rather than as just a secular health issue. Because of her charitable mission, her strong family ties to the country, and the solid scholarship behind our pamphlet, she was most warmly received, as if she were the country’s president. She saved three girls from  the barbaric surgery and prompted calls from the people and the masjids to return to the country for a follow-up visit bringing more representatives of the Minaret of Freedom Institute with her to complete the job she started.

The secular groups opposed to FGM have reduced the practice from 100% of females to 60% of females, but they have hit a wall. Most of the remaining population are less concerned with secular health questions than with what does Islam teach, and the health workers are unqualified to (and in most cases unwilling) to address. People repeatedly told Nancy that they had never seen anything like our pamphlet before, and they were greatly excited.

One woman’s extended family was pressuring her two young nieces, ages 7 and 8, to join the “Bondo Society,” a cultural rite of passage that involves having their clitorises cut and then sending them into seclusion. The rite is made attractive to the girls by the fact that its completion is celebrated by having their hair done up and dressing them in fancy dresses and gold jewelry. The aunt, a teacher, was opposed to the family’s plans but had been unable to dissuade the rest of the family until she read the pamphlet and spoke with Nancy. Intellectually armed, she was able to explain to the family why what they planned to do was against Islam.

One 14-year-old girl had successfully resisted the pressure to have the operation and was in school instead, but her parents were pressing her to leave school to get the operation. After reading the pamphlet and talking to Nancy, she was able to convince her parents that the operation was not part of Islam and they wholeheartedly agreed to let her stay in school.

Everyone told Nancy that what we were doing there had never been done before and was badly needed. She wants to return and bring Minaret of Freedom Institute scholars with her to speak directly to the imams and the media as she has spoken to the women. The people take their Islam seriously in Sierra Leone, but this is a subject that the local Islamic scholars have feared to discuss. The only way to solve the problem is on the demand side with accurate information about Islam presented in a culturally sensitive manner.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute


7 Responses to “Fighting FGM in Sierra Leone”

  1. please follow us on faecbook “FGM Campaign” and . We are seeking for a policy legislation on the practice by June 16th,2012.


  2. Nancy Kebe says:

    We are very excited to hear this news. We commend Sierra Leone for taking a step towards the abolition of FGM. A Policy Legislation will be key solution. We hope this move will bring courage to victims of FGM all over the world. Let us continue to create programs that will help develop the abilities of the women and make them become self-sufficient.


  3. Abdul aziz says:

    It is controvesia to band fgm, my organization center for justice and demogracy which is purely fighting against fgm in sierra leone, my staff has been killed, mohamed kamara, ishmeal bangura ,and osman sesay and they have been killed and no respond from government of the day, this people always care for thier votes, i am seriously stress for view staff that alive,

  4. Abdul aziz says:

    My hard working staffs shekuba conteh and amiyah turay alive and this two staff, they are strong human rights defender, am writing to the world to secure thier life for me, with thier potencial hard working on fgm in sierra leone they want to kill them,the traditional people has decleared them as wanted,need more comment on this issue

  5. Dr. Alhassan mansaray says:

    ATTACK ON ONE OSMAN SESAY BY TRADITIONAL BONDO SOCIETY GROUP Several battles has been going out between human rights activist working against the Female Genital Mutilation commonly call BONDO SOCIETY in Sierra Leone and the Traditional Bondo Society members who are fighting to maintain their tradition as African. The battles has caused so many problems in Sierra Leone especially in the rural areas of Sierra Leone. The Government take little parts in this issue due to the facts that supporters of the party members for election are mainly from the Traditional Society members so condemning their tradition will be risk of any one to maintain his or her power as paramount chief or counsellor, Parlimentarian and even the Presidential seat.
    Another recent attack took place on 8th May 2012 on one Osman Sesay at their NGO office of 45 Kingharman Road in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Eye witness claim that the attack was done by traditional Bondo Society members who are fighting all means for the closure of an NGO call Centre for Justice & Democracy. The society members claim that the NGO is sponsored by Outsiders who are fighting against their tradition in Sierra Leone. So many of such battles have gone between NGOs and the society members who always acused of NGOs taking money from europeans to come spoilt their tradition in the country. Mr. Sesay’s issue was serious as he was seriously tortured and got shot. He died immediately after the shoot.
    Mr Sesay was working as Project Coordinator of CENTER FOR JUSTICE & DEMOCRACY, (NGO) which defends civil rights and whose goal is to educate the population about the importance of justice and democratization, one of this NGO main goal is also prevention of genital mutilations (FGM).
    According to eye witness report, during the attack one Amiya turay was lucky to escape. In her expressions, Mrs Turay said the office has been close due the crisis of killing of the staff of their organization. She said the killing of Mr mohamed kamara , Ishmael Bangura, and Osman sesay , and the Other staff are missing.
    She said the Government didn’t help to protect activist working against Bondo Society and the tradional members continue to kill the people fighting against their society.

    Sources reach us that On October 27 again the said Osman wife Ramatoulai Jalloh who was seriously beating to COMA by the Bondo Society members during the election campaign process. The politicians surport traditional Bondo Society members because of their maintenance in powers and the rulers of the day.

    The trouble has been too long and so many times such crisis are going out between traditional bondo society members and the human rights activist , the government put little interest in such violations because of power and selfish greed to maintain their political positions.

  6. Dr. Alhassan mansaray says:

    According to our investigation and from the police about the ugly incident which took place at brookfields on the 11 of may 2012, that left 3 people dead and dozen arrested, it is believe that it all started from the appartment of john and regina Bockarie, according to investigation, their appartment was attacked by these same group of boys that have been identified by the police as black street, the same group that have been used by people to cause calamity in our society, according to mrs. Bockarie this group came to their appartment with the sole purpose to kill her son andrew moses, who escaped out of the appartment before they could catch him, according to police report these boys were hired to kill andrew moses, the son of regina bockarie, and they refuse to give names to the police about who sent them, even though they where behind bars, i spoke with one of them and he made it clear that they have made it their fight personally due to the loss of three member of their group and they will go all out to kill andrew and terorized the brookfields community and according to their history its most certain they will do that because they are many in numbers and the police have not been able to dealt with this particular topic of black street

  7. Abdul Aziz says:

    Shekuba Conteh have been working with us as the Youth Advocate Officerin this NGO center for & demoracy. We have so many other staff who were working with him such as Ismael Bangura – Child Protection Officer, Mohamed Bangura- Outreach officer, Osman Sesay – Project Officer, Amiya Turay – Secretary. Above all the list above, only Shekuba Conteh is lucky for us to hear that he is presently in France and in safe hands. All the others were killed and some we have no information about where they are and how we can locate them because they are missing since the crisis in 2011.

    Shekuba Conteh was seriously beaten during the crisis in April 2011 as our organization in coordination with other civil societies were working to stop the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) society commonly known as the BONDO society in Sierra Leone. Shekuba Conteh was admitted at the hospital from that period till 30th May in which all the bills were paid by our organization. We thank the doctor Mr. Mohamed Kanu who help our staff greatly at the hospital. In August as well Shekuba conteh showed me a letter that was sent to him by the Bondo Secret Society women threatening his life and planning to kill him in Kabala town. He left immediately Kabala after struggling for five days and then arrive in Freetown very early in the morning at my house. It was from him we got information about the hard work done in Kabala, the death of Ismael Bangura and Mohamed Kamara. On 25th September I got a phone call as well from Ishmael wife Fatmata Bangura in Freetown about the death of her husband by the Bondo Society people and immediately that happen, we got the news that the lady was even raped and beaten seriously. During that period as well, we even got information that Mohamed went to the house of Ishmael and their Mohamed was shoot by the magical witch craft gun which is the African way of killing people, in which he got sick and died three days after Ishmael death. The issues became more serious for our staff and shekuba was afraid of his life.

    I later help him out by handing him over to one Pastor Johnson a friend of mine as well. In which he help him to Conakry during the first week of October. The situation became more serious until i also left the country for the safety of my life because pressure came from Kabala and other places in the east of the country and the pressure in Freetown was also high for me. I even got news that Osman who was in the office was later shoot and killed after he was seriously sick during an attach by the society members.

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