According to British International Development Minister and AWEPA Member, Ms. Baroness Lindsay Northover, the Ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa appears to have brought the practice of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) to a near halt in Sierra Leone.
Ms. Baroness Northover urged donors, aid agencies, campaigners and others to capitalize on the opportunity to make the break permanent.
“We are aware that at the moment with the Ebola crisis … cutting has temporarily stopped. We have to seize this opportunity and see if we can move forward and end FGM”, she stated during a conference on FGM/C in London.
Ebola, which is spread through infected bodily fluids, has killed more than 10,200 people – mostly in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. FGM involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia and is often carried out in mass initiation ceremonies with many girls cut using the same blade.
The practice is legal in Sierra Leone but the government has introduced fines for FGM as part of its efforts to stamp out Ebola. It has also imposed restrictions on travel and gatherings which would prevent people congregating for the festivals that accompany cutting ceremonies.
“FGM is one of the most extreme manifestations of gender inequality. It’s a human rights violation that can result in a lifetime of physical, psychological and emotional suffering,” Ms. Baroness Lindsay Northover highlighted.
FGM affects an estimated 140 million girls and women across a swathe of Africa and parts of the Middle East and Asia. In Sierra Leone some 88 percent of girls and women have been cut.
Communities which practise FGM see the ritual as a way of keeping girls pure and a gateway to marriage.