By Mae Azango
Nine years ago on March 8, International Women’s Day, it was the day my life took a complete U-turn. That day in 2012, I went into hiding for simply writing on female circumcision, as part of my journalistic duties. When I took on the topic, I didn’t do it to condemn the culture and traditions of our People as people have suggested, but I did to educate Liberians about the health risks involving the practice that was harming young women and girls in rural Liberia.
Why am I saying all this, I am because there was a case study conducted prior—that a young girl died a few hours after leaving the Sande Bush in Nimba County that same year, 2012. Knowing very well the topic was a taboo subject in Liberia, I still took on it!
But immediately after the story broke, a tenant in my house, who was a member of the Sande Bush, threatened to call the traditional people to catch me because I had sinned, so it was on that day I went into hiding, because of the threats, unprotected as a journalist in my own country.
While I was in hiding, March 14 & 15 Decoration Day and J.J. Roberts’ birthday, which are two national holidays that came back to back, some traditional Zoes [traditional high priests], considered the spiritual Leaders of our land, went looking for me at my both offices and when they could not find me, they went to my house the next day to search for and catch my nine years old daughter to have her initiated as a trap to get me. Luckily for me, the nanny who was a repented member of the Sande, spotted the women dressed in traditional outfit, and knew they were from the Bush, she escaped through the back door of the house with my daughter to hide her. The ‘spiritual leaders’ had earlier called and threatened my editor that it was not my business to speak about something I knew nothing about, so they were going to catch and had me circumcised as a punishment, in a country where the rule of law is suppose to be the guiding post for equity, and redress through the courts!
The practice they claimed is a ritual to keep young women pure, yet the practice had claimed the lives of many women and girls in rural Liberia, whom they usually say, quote on quote the devil had swallowed.
The character in my story, Ma Sabah, not her real name begged not to have her name mentioned because she swore an oath in the Sande Bush not to ever tell what went on in the Bush, or she would die. According to her, they were over fifty girls who attended the Bush in 1973, and they used only two knives in the form of a hook to cut all of them. The health implication there, is that no rocket scientist has to tell anybody that if one instrument is used on two or more girls transmittable diseases would be spread, such as HIV/AIDS from one person to another.
As I said earlier, I did not report on the topic to violate the culture and traditional norms of our people, but to point out the health risks involved from a Medical Doctor’s point of view, “I have seen many uncountable cases of FGC,” says Dr. Torsou Y. Jallabah, Medical Director of the James N. Davis Jr. Memorial Hospital. He said, “I can recall last year some children who underwent genital cutting were bleeding and rushed to our hospital by the police, because the lady who performed the ritual had escaped when she could not stop the bleeding. The little girls were taken to our operating room and stitches were done to stop the bleeding,” said Dr. Jallabah, in 2012.
He continued: the procedure of using unsterilized instruments on two or more girls is harmful because it spreads diseases from one person to another.
In 2013 and 2014, during the Ebola outbreak, I reported on Female Genital Cutting, or FGC during the Ebola outbreak and the possible harm of it, to educate the rural dwellers in Bomi and Cape Mount Counties, who were still carrying out the practice amidst the danger of spreading the virus through touching, but I was still being frowned upon, criticized and threatened for doing my work.
Before leaving office in 2018, Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf placed an executive order on the Domestic violence bill, which intended to suspend the practice for a year, and the following year the Domestic Violence bill was passed but with the removal of the circumcision aspect. Some Lawmakers, who pushed for the practice to continue, did so for their own selfish political gains, to get votes from the rural community, all in the name of protecting this harmful culture.
My question is, if the practice is so good and enhances the growth of women and girls, then why nearly all of the other African Countries practicing this culture, have banned it by law, besides Liberia and Guinea?
It is either we join the rest of the world and move ahead in ending violence against women or remain behind and leave the world to celebrate International Women’s Day without participating in the celebrations. Everybody is entitled to his or her views as protected under the laws of the land, so am I, and I have spoken my mind. Happy, International Women’s Day to all of the women of Liberia and the World.
Main Photo: Mae Azango, FrontPage Africa Reporter