Liberia

Country: Liberia

Population: 4.3 million[1]

Languages:[2] English (official), 20 ethnic group languages

Major religions:[3] Christian 85.6%, Islam 12.2%, Traditional 0.6%

 

Estimated FGC prevalence among women aged 15-49:

50%[4]

The prevalence has nearly halved in three decades.[5]

 

table-1

Note[6]: Because of the secretive nature of the societies which practise FGC in Liberia, and the sensitivity of direct questions about FGC, women interviewed in the 2013 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) were asked if they had ever heard of a secret society like the Sande society and, if so, whether they were a member of the Sande society or a woman’s secret society. 50 percent of women interviewed said they were members of the Sande society; membership in the Sande society is a proxy for female genital cutting.

Type(s) practised:

The most widely practised form is Type II.[7]

Legal status:

There is no national decree/legislation banning FGC.[8]

 


[1] ‘Liberia’ (The World Factbook, CIA) <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/li.html> accessed 21 November 2016

[2] ibid

[3] ibid

[4] ‘Liberia: Statistical profile on female genital mutilation/cutting’ (Unicef) <http://data.unicef.org/wp-content/uploads/country_profiles/Liberia/FGMC_LBR.pdf> accessed 21 November 2016

[5] ibid

[6] Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS), Ministry of Health and Social Welfare [Liberia], National AIDS Control Program [Liberia], and ICF International, Liberia Demographic and Health Survey 2013 (Monrovia, Liberia: Liberia Institute of Statistics and GeoInformation Services (LISGIS) and ICF International, 2014)

[7] Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women's Issues, Liberia: Report on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or Female Genital Cutting (FGC) (Washington: U.S. Department of State 2001) <https://2001-2009.state.gov/g/wi/rls/rep/crfgm/10104.htm> accessed 21 November 2016

[8] Country Department Africa - Western Africa II, Angola and Pan-African Organisations and Programmes, Female Genital Mutilation in Liberia (Eschborn, Germany: Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development 2011)

History of FGC in Liberia:

Until the civil war of 1989, FGC was practised by most ethnic groups throughout Liberia. In parts where traditional institutions were strong, the practice was more entrenched in society and practised more frequently. The civil war, however, brought much displacement of the population and significantly disrupted rural life - as well as traditional institutions. Some believe this unsettled period in Liberia’s history resulted in a significant reduction in the practice.

In Liberia, FGC is usually implemented through secret societies or the Sande secret society, which refer to bush schools for young girls.[1] Girls are taken to the bush where they are taught local customs, sex education, feminine hygiene, and housekeeping skills. The society is a leading cultural force in many villages.[2] FGC is a taboo subject; it is forbidden to talk about secret societies and their practices with non-initiated people.[3]

 


[1] Country Department Africa - Western Africa II, Angola and Pan-African Organisations and Programmes, Female Genital Mutilation in Liberia (Eschborn, Germany: Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development 2011); Emma Batha, ‘Secret societies make Liberia one of the hardest places to end FGM’ (Thomson Reuters Foundation, 6 February 2014) < http://news.trust.org//item/20140205144950-niqxw/> accessed 21 November 2016

[2] Geoffrey York, ‘Liberian effort to end female circumcision runs into fierce opposition’ The Global and Mail (Monrovia, 19 June 2016) <http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/liberian-effort-to-end-female-circumcision-runs-into-fierce-opposition/article4353672/,%2020.06.2012> accessed 21 November 2016

[3] 28 Too Many, Country Profile: FGM in Liberia December 2014 (RefWorld) <http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/54bcdf574.pdf> accessed 21 November 2016

Current efforts to abandon FGC:

Liberia has announced plans to stop the practice of FGC. Several government officials, including Julia Duncan-Cassell (Liberia’s Minister of Gender and Development) and Grace Kpaan (County Superintendent) have publicly voiced their concerns with continuing the practice and urged Liberians to desist.[1] Throughout both her terms as president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has talked about her firm commitment to women’s rights, coming out strongly in favour of the health and safety of women and girls.[2] In 2015, at an international event on gender equality, Johnson-Sirleaf said: “Too many of our countries have yet to muster the courage to ban the irreparable harm inflicted by genital mutilation on young girls in traditional societies.”[3]

Ongoing challenges:

Despite the rhetoric from certain officials, the government itself is making little effort to impose a ban, and has admitted that it has no deadline for putting a halt to the practice. Today, Liberia is one of the three African countries, alongside Mali and Sierra Leone, yet to ban FGC.

In 2015, things appeared to be changing when, in response to many years of international and national pressure, a domestic violence bill was finally introduced to strengthen legislation on violence against women and girls – including, for the first time, a ban on FGC.[4] However, the proposed measures were extremely weak; the bill regarded FGM as an offence only when performed on a girl under the age of 18 – or a person 18 or older without their consent.[5] This would provide a loophole for parents or guardians to grant consent on behalf of their daughters, leaving those most at risk unprotected. Opposition from several politicians in April led to the FGC provision being removed from the bill, which passed into law in summer 2015.[6]

At the same time, Liberia’s media has been silenced on the issue too – and the lives of journalists and activists who speak out are put at risk.[7] The fragility of the socio economic situation also complicates the formation of sustainable activities to work to end FGC.

Another challenge is the secrecy of the societies performing FGC in Liberia. According to Equality Network, “Liberia is very tricky (…) the secret society makes it very difficult to penetrate or even to start talking about FGM because people are just scared.”[8]

 


[1] Geoffrey York, ‘Liberian effort to end female circumcision runs into fierce opposition’ The Global and Mail (Monrovia, 19 June 2016) <http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/liberian-effort-to-end-female-circumcision-runs-into-fierce-opposition/article4353672/,%2020.06.2012> accessed 21 November 2016

[2] Mary Wandia, ‘Liberia needs to muster the courage to ban FGM’ The Guardian (London, 27 April 2016) <https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/apr/27/liberia-courage-to-ban-fgm-ellen-johnson-sirleaf> accessed 21 November 2016

[3] ibid

[4] ibid

[5] ibid

[6]Women in the World, ‘Liberian legislators drop provision that would have banned FGM’ (New York Times, 28 April 2016)  <http://nytlive.nytimes.com/womenintheworld/2016/04/28/liberian-legislators-drop-provision-that-would-have-banned-fgm/> accessed 21 November 2016

[7] Wandia (n 2)

[8] Emma Batha, ‘Secret societies make Liberia one of the hardest places to end FGM’ (Thomson Reuters Foundation, 6 February 2014) < http://news.trust.org//item/20140205144950-niqxw/> accessed 21 November 2016

Prevalence by geographical department:

map-final

Source: Unicef 2016

Practising ethnic groups:

The DHS 2013 does not show prevalence of FGC by ethnic group. However, according to a 2011 report,  about half of Liberia‘s 16 ethnic groups subject women and girls to FGC, the Mende, Gola, Kissi and Bassa with particular frequency, whereas the practice is virtually unknown among the Kru, Grebo and Krahn, the Muslim Mandinke and the American Liberian population.[1]

Prevailing attitudes towards FGC:

table-2


[1] Country Department Africa - Western Africa II, Angola and Pan-African Organisations and Programmes, Female Genital Mutilation in Liberia (Eschborn, Germany: Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development 2011)

Reference list:

28 Too Many, Country Profile: FGM in Liberia December 2014 (RefWorld) <http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/54bcdf574.pdf> accessed 21 November 2016

Batha E, ‘Secret societies make Liberia one of the hardest places to end FGM’ (Thomson Reuters Foundation, 6 February 2014) <http://news.trust.org//item/20140205144950-niqxw/> accessed 21 November 2016

Country Department Africa - Western Africa II, Angola and Pan-African Organisations and Programmes, Female Genital Mutilation in Liberia (Eschborn, Germany: Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development 2011)

Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS), Ministry of Health and Social Welfare [Liberia], National AIDS Control Program [Liberia], and ICF International, Liberia Demographic and Health Survey 2013 (Monrovia, Liberia: Liberia Institute of Statistics and GeoInformation Services (LISGIS) and ICF International, 2014)

‘Liberia: Statistical profile on female genital mutilation/cutting’ (Unicef) <http://data.unicef.org/wp-content/uploads/country_profiles/Liberia/FGMC_LBR.pdf> accessed 21 November 2016

‘Liberia’ (The World Factbook, CIA) <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/li.html> accessed 21 November 2016

Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women's Issues, Liberia: Report on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or Female Genital Cutting (FGC) (Washington: U.S. Department of State 2001) <https://2001-2009.state.gov/g/wi/rls/rep/crfgm/10104.htm> accessed 21 November 2016

York G, ‘Liberian effort to end female circumcision runs into fierce opposition’ The Global and Mail (Monrovia, 19 June 2016) <http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/liberian-effort-to-end-female-circumcision-runs-into-fierce-opposition/article4353672/,%2020.06.2012> accessed 21 November 2016

Wandia M, ‘Liberia needs to muster the courage to ban FGM’ The Guardian (London, 27 April 2016) <https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/apr/27/liberia-courage-to-ban-fgm-ellen-johnson-sirleaf> accessed 21 November 2016

 

In the news:

Liberian Daily Observer - Action Aid Liberia implements three-year Access to Justice project for women and girls: FGC among main subjects of dicussion

Executive Mansion - President Sirleaf highlights traditional leaders' role in outlawing FGC while attending meeting with the British Parliament

VOA News - Liberian Girls Discuss Hurdles to Their Education; FGM among the challenges they face

Global News Network Liberia - National Human Rights Action (NHRAP) says it plans to petition the National Legislature to abolish the practice of FGC in Liberia

Global News Network Liberia  - Secret societies implicated as domestic bill passed without ban on FGC

The Bush Chicken - House of Representatives pass domestic violence bill without provision banning FGC

Liberian Daily Observer - Senator Taylor gets behind anti-FGC campaign

The Guardian -  'There has been too much discussion and not enough action' Equality Now urges President Johnson-Sirleaf to do more to end FGC

WIPNET - Tambah Johnson disappointed FGC was not mentioned during President Johnson's State of the Nation address

Daily Observer - Proposed bill to combat FGC missing key elements

CFR - The importance of ending FGC in Liberia

Daily Observer - More girls in danger of undergoing FGC in Twah River

Front Page Africa - Female advocacy group pleads for criminalisation of FGC

All Africa - Girls Alliance for Future Leadership accuses President Sirleaf of taking little action to protect girls against FGC

Daily Observer - Gender, Children and Social Protection Minister prepares her ministry to submit an Act to the National Legislature to criminalize FGC

All Africa - Recent UN report confirms 58% of women in Liberia undergo FGC, reveals secret society called Poro

Liberian Observer - Before her term of office expires, Ellen to ensure Domestic Violence Bill turns into Law

New Dawn Liberia- Minister of Gender calls for end of violence against children

AllAfrica  - FGC continues in Liberia despite Ebola

The Thomson Reuters Foundation - Secret societies make Liberia one of the hardest places to end FGC

Huffington Post - Liberia can elect a strong, feminist leader but it can't end FGC

Front Page Africa - Zero effort: Liberia is still not seriously fighting FGC, group says

Front Page Africa - Lawless Liberia: Legal failure renews international calls for FGC law

FIGO - Campaigners urge Liberia to ban FGC

Trustlaw - Kidnappers jailed for forcing Liberian woman to undergo FGC

Women's Enews - Liberian journalist threatened for FGC coverage

Women News Network – Liberian woman journalist Mae Azango defines transparency and ethics

Standard Media (Kenya) – Communities remove FGC from calendar

Front Page Africa – A killer on the rise: FGC blamed for Hepatitis B 'yellow fever' deaths

Global Post- A dangerous job: Fighting against female genital cutting in Liberia

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