Liberia Traditional Zoes Officially Close Bush Schools To Respect Ban On FGM


It was a moment of tears and sorrow on the faces of several women most especially traditional Zoes in Gbaota Town, central Bong County, when they officially closed the female Bush Schools known as the Sande Society, turning over their traditional properties in line with the ban on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) practice in Liberia. Several of them were seen with their traditional property in bundles as they marched with tears to officially turn them over to the traditional queen for onward submission to the Chairman of the National Council of Chief and Elders or NACCEL Zanzan Karwor who were represented by his deputy. NACCEL conducted the traditional rites in conjunction with the Government of Liberia through the Ministries of Internal Affairs and Gender, Children, and Social Protection and formally retrieve all documents and tools issued to local traditional leaders to run bush schools. Similar events have also happened in Tienii, Grand Cape Mount on 04 August 2023 in support of the elimination of the practice of FGM in Liberia. On Friday, 20 October 2023, the NACCE conducted a traditional ceremony in Bong County to officially mark the closure of community engagements on the implementation of a ban declared on FGM by the same Chief in Sonkay Town, Montserrado County, on 6 February 2023. The initiative is technically being supported by the Liberia Crusaders for Peace with funding support from the UN Women Liberia and the government of Sweden. At the event held on 6 February 2023 in Sonkay Town to commemorate International Day of Zero Tolerance on Female Genital Mutilation, Chief Karwor officially declared that the practice of FGM was banned forever in all 15 counties of Liberia. However, he made it clear that to adequately notify traditional leaders and implement strict cultural measures for long-term enforcement of the ban on FGM, formal traditional ritual ceremonies had to take place in the 11 FGM practicing counties. Based on that declaration, on 4 August 2023, NACCEL and the GOL conducted the second customary closure ceremonies in Tienii, finally putting an end to the practice of FGM in Grand Cape Mount County. Chief Karwor declared during the Tienii rites that Bong, Nimba, and Lofa counties would be next in line to permanently end the FGM practice. “We come with heavy heart today to turn over our traditional properties for development.  We are in tears today, it is a difficult day for us, so with heavy hearts we turn over our properties to you for the development of our County and Liberia,” noted Bong County Superintendent Esther Walker who spoke on behalf of the Zoes. According to Madam Walker, they have agreed to turn over their culture and traditional properties and have also agreed to do away with FGM, saying that they are doing so in the interest of their children and Liberia. She at the same time called for alternative livelihood support for women who have abandoned the practice of FGM to have them empowered through agriculture and skill programs. In remarks, the Traditional Queen of Liberia and Executive Director of Crusaders for Peace, Juli Endee extended thanks and appreciation to UN women, the Government of Sweden, the Ministry of Gender, Ministry of Internal Affairs for their support saying that the success could not have been possible without the support of UN Women, the Government of Sweden, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Gender. “This is a very difficult process, whereas a traditional person that has been a member of this Sande with a degree being in the Sande to say, we will do away with FGM. But some of us know that when you put your signature to a document when you say I will do this, you must be committed,” Madam Endee said. Madam Endee however encouraged Zoes to stick to what they say they will do, no matter the challenges and difficulties they may face but urged them not to return to the harmful practice of FGM noting that traditional people can’t go back to their words. “What we say we’ll do is what they will do”. UN Women commends Liberia’s Zoes In remarks, UN Women Country Representative to Liberia Madam Comfort Lampety commended the Zoes for taking the bold step of closing the Bush School and turning over their traditional properties to eliminate FGM. “I want to salute you for the bold step you have taken today. I understand it is not easy and I think it was put very well when I didn’t think about it that way. But that’s when you disarm someone and today we are talking about disarming, what you have always known as your strength,” the UN Women boss said. Madam Lampety maintained that the step taken by the Zoes to change their culture is not easy maintaining that the change they are pursuing is change not just for them, but for their children and generation to come and a change to make Liberia better. She observed that the change will build a stronger Liberia where all Liberians, including women and girls can fulfill their full potential in society. “So for your daughters and your granddaughters who are to come? As they say, when one door closes, another opens. You don’t know what is behind the door that’s going to open. But believe me, you are on the right side of history” The UN Women Country Representative encourages. She however, appealed to citizens to where the heritage centers are being constructed to help us show that these centers are making a difference by Madam Lampety at the time assured Zoes that the UN Women would continue working with donor partners, with private sector partners, and with the government of Liberia, especially to see work that they are doing on alternative livelihoods by ensuring that the investment in women who have abandoned the practice is integrated into the national budget of Liberia to support and empower women who were previously practicing FGM. “I would like, as the Swedish representative to Liberia to say congratulations to you all. It is very, very impressive for me to be here today and see your commitment, your leadership, your decision to come together and based on the tradition, the culture take a decision that will benefit both girls and boys, women and men in Liberia,” the Sweden Ambassador Noted. The program was graced by elders and a corps of grand and master Zoes, as well as women chief and attendant Zoes, the Government of Liberia and representatives from the UN, Diplomatic Corps, civil society organizations and INGO partners among others. Importantly, NACCEL and the GOL have since 6 February 2023 clarified that the Liberian culture and its values will continue to exist as the principle of “initiation without mutilation” will contribute to preserving the rich Liberian cultural elements through alternative rites of passage of young girls to adulthood, without FGM. UN Women and its partners acknowledge the enormous funding and collaboration support provided by the Governments and people of Sweden, the European Union, Liberians at large, and civil society organizations toward our shared goal of ending female genital mutilation in Liberia. By Alfred Kollie,

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