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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Office of International Women's Issues > Electronic Resources > Other Reports > Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or Female Genital Cutting (FGC): Individual Country Reports

Sierra Leone: Report on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or Female Genital Cutting (FGC)

Released by the Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women's Issues

Type II (commonly referred to as excision) is the form of female genital mutilation (FGM) or female genital cutting (FGC) widely practiced on women and girls in Sierra Leone. It is generally practiced by all classes, including the educated elite. Sierra Leoneans who live abroad sometimes bring their daughters back to Sierra Leone to participate in initiation rites that include this procedure. Type II is usually carried out within a ritual context. It is part of the passage from childhood to womanhood.

Some estimates place the percentage of women and girls in Sierra Leone who undergo this procedure at 80 percent. Others put the percentage higher at 90 percent. All ethnic groups practice it except Krios who are located primarily in the western region and in the capital, Freetown.

Attitudes and Beliefs:
The customary power bases of women in Sierra Leone lie in the secret societies. Women who administer puberty rites are revered, feared and believed to hold supernatural powers. Membership in these secret societies, including Sande and Bundo, lasts a lifetime.

Groups of girls of approximately the same age are initiated into these societies. Part of the ritual is the cutting. Girls initiated together form a bond and this sisterhood lasts throughout their lives. The girls take an oath that they will not reveal anything that happened during the puberty rite.

It is believed that once initiated into the society, the girl has passed into womanhood. She now has adult status and can participate in society as a woman. The secret societies are supported by some members of the influential elite who are also members of the societies or have relatives who are.

Non-members of the secret societies are considered to be children, and not accepted as adults by society. They are generally barred from taking up leadership positions in Sierra Leone society. Children who come of age and have not gone through the puberty rite are liable to be forcibly seized to undergo the procedure.

In working with ex-child combatants, it was found that a number of the female ex-combatants sought membership in the secret societies as a form of self-protection and evidence that they were reintegrating into society.

Type II:
Type II is the excision (removal) of the clitoral hood with or without removal of all or part of the clitoris.

Traditional excisors earn income and in-kind remuneration for performing this procedure. It is generally performed without the use of anesthesia.

In Sierra Leone, there is a National Committee of the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (IAC), the Sierra Leone Association on Women’s Welfare (SLAWW). It was set up in 1984 and advocates informing the public about the dangers of FGM/FGC and for legislation to eradicate the practice. Jurists have been brought in to participate in the campaign against this practice.

The approach by SLAWW has been very cautious. It has initiated informational activities about the practice. There is now discussion of the practice and its problems within educated circles among doctors, midwives, nurses, teachers, students and journalists.

SLAWW has established an alternative employment opportunity project for excisors. Programs on the health problems associated with the practice for excisors have also been held.

The activities of SLAWW were interrupted in May 1997 due to the political crisis. Most of its members had to flee the country. However, it continued its advocacy work with members of other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Marie Stoopes, the YWCA, the Methodist Ministers Wives' Association, the Council of Churches of Sierra Leone and the Young Muslim Brotherhood. These organizations often invite SLAWW to give talks on harmful traditional practices, particularly FGM/FGC, childhood marriage and pregnancy. At each talk the SLAWW publicity secretary makes certain the talk is in the news in all the different local languages.

SLAWW took part in the March 8, 1998 International Women's Day celebration and handed out material on the adverse effects of traditional practices. Included were pamphlets, badges, posters, T-shirts and other printed material. Many of the literate adolescents who took the materials to read promised to act as agents of change in their homes, schools and communities. The slogan on the materials read: "SLAWW (IAC National Committee) abhors Harmful Practices but encourages Good Ones."

In early 1999, their activities were again interrupted by the invasion of Freetown.

A private grassroots program includes teaching about the dangers of FGM/FGC and ways to eradicate it. Seminars are held with primary and secondary school teachers on the dangers of the practice. The program also assists girls who interrupt their education because of pregnancy. The Kenema Voluntary Health Workers Association has also organized meetings for regional leaders on FGM/FGC.

The National Drama Group performed a play in the latter part of 2000 that presented a message of a girl being able to make her own choice with respect to excision. The play was attended by the President and other senior ministers and received reasonable press coverage.

Legal Status:
There is no law prohibiting FGM/FGC in Sierra Leone.

Despite the fact that there are no laws prohibiting this practice in Sierra Leone there was a 1996 case of a 28-year old woman forcibly abducted by the Bundo Society in Freetown and subjected to the procedure. The woman brought criminal charges against the society. The outcome of this case is unknown.

Prepared by the Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women's Issues, Office of the Under Secretary for Global Affairs, U.S. Department of State, June 2001

Released on June 1, 2001

FGM/FGC Country Reports Front Page

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