Four female journalists are in a state of shock on Monday after being attacked, forced to strip and march through a Sierra Leonean town by Bondo, a secret society supporting female genital mutilation, FGM. It occurred on ''zero tolerance to FGM- day."
One victim, UN radio journalist Manja Balama-Samba, said they were accused of reporting on an anti-Female Genital Mutilation campaign last Friday, which marked the international day of zero tolerance to female circumcision.
According to United Nations figures, some 94 per cent of women and females aged 15 to 49 years in Sierra Leone have undergone circumcision, traditionally believed to suppress female sexuality and make girls more "marriageable." Female mutilation is also widely practiced in Islamic societies in Western countries, even though most countries prohibit the cruel practice. More info here and here
The women were abducted by 'Bondo', a secret pro-FGM society in the eastern city of Kenema, stripped naked and marched through the streets of Kenema before police and human rights organisations intervened to set them free. "We are still in a daze," UN radio journalist Balama-Samba told Agence-France Presse by telephone.
"We had received threatening telephone calls on our lives, warning that we will be taught a lesson not to report on FGM," journalist Manja Balama-Samba said. "We were only undertaking a reporting assignment and have no hand in any campaign," she said. see report here and here
Witnesses said the women were forcibly taken to the forest headquarters of the Bondo society, the secret organisation of women who traditionally carry out female genital mutilation as part of so-called initiation rites.There they were reportedly stripped before being marched into town.
Spoke 'unfavourably' against FGM
Speaking to journalists, the head of the Bondo society, Haja Massah Kaisamba, would not comment on the allegations other than saying the four women were taken into "our custody because they spoke unfavourably on radio against FGM". For their part police would not say what further steps, if any, they would take.
While public officials all vow to take steps against female mutilation, this is just for the consumption of the foreign news media. Recently, the wife of Sierra Leone's President still sponsored the circumcision of 1,500 young girls to win votes for her husband,. Clearly, female genital mutilation remains a vote-winner in Sierra Leone, activists say. And when the woman who is now Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Women's Affairs, threatens to "sew up the mouths" of those who preach against FGM, women say they know they are facing an uphill struggle there.
Gynaecologist campaigner for 30 years;
However that has not dissuaded Olayinka Koso-Thomas, a gynaecologist in Sierra Leone, from campaigning against the practice for 30 years, ignoring death threats and angry protesters storming her clinic. see
The official government statements say the exact opposite from it is happening in reality however: "We believe people should always obey the law," said police inspector-general Brima Acha Kamara, when asked for a reaction...
Secret societies have a lot of influence in Sierra Leone and politicians are reluctant to speak out against FGM, for fear of losing votes.
A year ago, a group called Women In The Media Sierra Leone (WIMSAL) had to move their meetings to neighbouring Freetown in Liberia -- where they vowed that they would help end the practice of Bondo in Sierra Leone.
On the same day that the interactive session was held, another anti-Bondo campaigner, Ms. Finda Fraser , told the nation that 16 women's organizations in Sierra Leone have joined forces to push for the authorities to ban Bondo in Sierra Leone.
Finda is the coordinator of the Advocacy Network and she echoed the ethos of today's liberated Sierra Leonean women when she said : "It (Bondo) is against our human rights and should not be practised in Sierra Leone. It is an issue which the government and women's organisations should work to stop quickly."
Finda Fraser's declaration received full public support from the Minister of Social Welfare , Ms. Musu Kandeh, who said that the government was committed to ban Bondo in Sierra Leone. However, thus far, nothing has been done by the government to ban the practice, even though they had been promising to do so since early last year.
The latest incident was condemned by media organisations and the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) called on authorities to investigate it. Women in the Media Sierra Leone (Wimsal) rights group also denounced it as "unacceptable and against the tenets of human rights".