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UN Women Goodwill Amb. Challenges African Legislatures

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By Darlington Porkpa

UN-Women Goodwill Ambassador to Africa is challenging the Continent’s Legislatures and Parliaments to pass laws that ban female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Child marriages.

She, herself, a survival of FGM and child marriage, UN-Women Goodwill Ambassador, Jaha Dukureh, is in Liberia to strengthen the Country’s efforts in eliminating FGM and child marriage.

In an interaction with the Media Monday, November 21, 2022, Ms. Dukureh said: “I am baffled how politicians are not moving toward ending the practices for fear of vote loss in elections.”

Ms. Dukureh said community-based engagement is also another way that can be used to explain the importance of ending FGM and child marriage in Liberia and Africa.

The UN-Women Goodwill Ambassador disclosed plans to be instituted to maintain the good aspects of FGM, and eradicate the harmful ones.

Ms. Dukureh recommended introducing financial literacy, and capacity-building trainings in the bush schools for young women and not only teachings on how to be good house wives.

Meanwhile, UN-Women Goodwill Ambassador has expressed optimism that Liberia can be an example others can follow in ending FGM and child marriage.

She acknowledged the ban Liberia has placed on FGM as good step going forward, but urged citizens to hold their government accountable to ensuring the practice is totally ended.

Ms. Dukureh maintained that Liberia has the potential and opportunity to move faster than others to ending FGM, child marriages and all forms of abuses against women.

She then extended an olive branch to the Media, as a crucial partner in advocating FGM and child marriage, and reporting on issues that affect women in general.

In a related development the United Nations Women Goodwill Ambassador for Africa on female genital mutilation (FGM), and child marriage, Jaha Dukureh, has highlighted a sustained community based approach as the best way forward in eliminating FGM in Liberia.

At the moment, FGM remains a taboo subject in rural communities in Liberia because the procedure takes place as part of initiation into a secret society called the Sandy Society.

In March this year, traditional leaders signed a resolution banning the practice for three years, however reports are still emerging that in hard to reach communities, girls are still being cut.

Using advocacy

“Advocacy is also important because even if you pass a law, if there is no ownership from the community it will become a problem so it is very important to do a lot of consultations with the community,” says UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, Jaha Dukureh.

Speaking at a news conference Monday as part of her visit to Liberia geared toward rallying efforts to eliminate FGM, a harmful practice against women and girls, she said the media and civil society actors have a great role to play in the process.

She insists that once community leaders are made to own the fight against FGM, Liberia will make a huge progress in ending FGM.

“FGM is a human rights abuse that continues to affect the lives of millions of women and girls around the world. If we are to replace harmful cultural practices with the good ones, we all should get involved,” she said.

The World Bank estimates that as of 2020, Liberia had a prevalence rate of 31.8%.

The practice is deeply entrenched within the culture and is performed by traditional leaders, the zoes,  as a rite of passage into womanhood and is part of an initiation into the powerful secret society – the Sande – which is run by women zoes.

“So it is important to do a lot of consultations with the communities to understand that this law is for their benefit and not something that is working against them,” she stressed.

The legislature must act

Liberia is party to several international and regional human rights conventions and protocols calling for the protection of women and girls from FGM, for instance the Maputo Protocol, which in Article 5 calls explicitly on State Parties to ban all forms of FGM through legislative measures, which Liberia ratified in 2008, the country is yet to pass a law prohibiting FGM for all ages.

“The thing about Liberia is, politicians don’t want to move (to enact anti-FGM law), because they are worry about losing votes. But this is about rights and wrong and is about the lives of young women and it is very important that the Legislature understand that we don’t have time to keep delaying,” she highlighted.

A bill criminalizing FGM was introduced in the Houses’ Chambers briefly and was withdrawn, presented to each lawmaker for proper consultations with their citizens, but the UN Women Envoy insists, the Legislature must act.

“The Legislature needs to act! They can’t keep delaying this for political and other reasons. They have to act,” she insists.

Meanwhile, Madam Jaha Dukureh emphasized the need for Liberia to adhere to its international and regional commitments on the framework of the elimination of harmful practices (including FGM).

“We must put in place a law that will safeguard the rights of women and girls to live free from FGM,” she appeals.

Alternative livelihood  

At the same time, Dukureh indicated that international partners are willing to provide alternative economic livelihood programs to traditional practitioners in an effort to eliminate FGM in Liberia.

“Partners like us, especially international partners like us; if the of Liberia is willing to pass a law against FGM, we will not allow the women to just be stranded, I don’t think that will make sense for anyone, it is not beneficial to anyone,” she said.

She said once the law is passed, partners will move in and provide assistance to the zoes to find an alternative livelihood to sustain themselves.

“Our commitment will be coming in and finding ways to support these women in those communities so that they have those alternative ways of earning money,” he added.

For now, UN Women and its partners are supporting several women at the vocational and heritage center in Todee, Montserrado County as part of the Spotlight Initiative.

UN Women is establishing four vocational and heritage centres in four Counties to provide alternative economic livelihood programs to traditional practitioners in an effort to eliminate FGM in Liberia. The centres will serve as dedicated learning centres for traditional practitioners and young women and girls to learn new skills to enable them to get an alternative source of income to replace female genital mutilation.

At least 300 traditional practitioners have benefitted from the alternative economic livelihood programme, which was launched in December 2019 under the Spotlight Initiative.

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