African Press International (API)

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Female Genital Mutilation an issue in Sierra Leone

Posted by African Press International on April 13, 2007

Freetown (Sierra Leone) Two Sierra Leonean women’s rights activists, AnnMarie Caulker and Laurell Bangura, Thursday announced that they were now taking bold steps in their campaign against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), by targeting the initiators known locally as “soweis”, APA has learnt.

“Our focus now is on the initiators or “soweis” who have always been the most hostile and unreceptive,” AnnMarie Caulker, the Executive Director of Catanya Women’s Development Association (CAWDA) told APA.

“Even attempting to discuss the issue of FGM with them can cause you physical harm ; you could be violently attacked or even chased out of the community where they operate,” AnnMarie said.

AnnMarie Caulker and Laurell Bangura both work for CAWDA, a non-governmental women’s rights group that has been in the forefront of campaigning against FGM and other forms of abuses against women and girls over the past decade.

Beginning Thursday, the two have launched what they describe as “empowerment of the soweis campaign” aimed at providing alternative means of livelihood for the soweis, through agriculture or skills training.

Discussing FGM openly is viewed as a taboo in Sierra Leone and girls and women who are initiates tend to feel a sense of pride and superiority over non-initiates.

But CAWDA seems to have broken from tradition and is engaging the very initiators with a view to helping them restart their lives through the empowerment campaign.

The group has also been advocating for official ban on FGM, but the government, mindful of the sensitivity of the issue and its electoral implications [elections billed for July 28], seems less enthusiastic to do so.

A Child Rights Bill is currently before parliament with a key provision to ban FGM “as a form of cruelty against children.”

A presidential candidate in the 2002 elections lost woefully for allegedly campaigning against FGM.

“Such is the sensitive nature of the FGM debate and a pointer to what difficult challenge we are faced with,” Laurell Bangura lamented.

CAWDA announced Thursday it is embarking on a week-long sensitisation tour of the provincial regions where the practice of FGM is prevalent, to meet and dialogue with the Soweis and find a way forward.

Published by Korir, African Press in Norway, apn, africanpress@chello.no tel +47 932 99 739 +47 6300 2525 source.apa

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