Female Genital Mutilation
We want to build an education centre to host workshops discouraging female genital mutilation (FGM).
FGM involves intentional alteration or injury to the female genital organs for non medical purposes. In Sierra Leone the most common form of the practice is removal of the clitoris affecting 86.1% of the female population.
Having conducted research with a local NGO, The Cotton Tree Foundation in 2018 in Makomp and the Port Loko District seeking ways to reduce this harmful practice, we learnt most do not know why FGM is practised, beyond it simply being a cultural tradition that people are born into. There is a severe lack of understanding of why the practice is harmful, and there is a significant lack of understanding of what a clitoris even is. The national school curriculum does not include sexual education. We concluded that one of the most significant and effective strategies to reduce this practice is through raising awareness.
In association with The Cotton Tree Foundation, we will provide a space where the organisation can host anti-FGM workshops, amongst other educational events with an aim to make Makomp the first FGM free village in all of Sierra Leone.
FGM IN SIERRA LEONE
In Sierra Leone, FGM is practised as part of an initiation to a wide spread, powerful, all women's secret society called the Bondo Society.
To enter this society, new initiates (usually between the ages of 8 - 18) are taken to a society location, without knowing what will happen to them, where senior society members hold the young girls down to the ground, forcefully spread their legs open, and slice off their clitorises using a cut throat razor blade or other sharpened object such as shards of metal or glass.
Not all girls survive.
Excessive bleeding and infection can result in death. These deaths very rarely become publicly known due to the secret nature of the society. The girls will go 'missing' whilst the families are told the girl was taken by a devil or other supernatural entity.
Due to the secrecy of the Bondo society and the extreme taboo surrounding FGM, the topic is very rarely discussed. Adults will never tell children anything what will actually occur in the Bondo bush, whilst young girls see their older companions graduating through initiation being showered with gifts, clothes and food and are desperate to be initiated also. Only once they arrive and their legs are spread apart, do they find out about the genital mutilation aspect of the process.
Initiation of a girl costs 500000 Leones, the equivalent of around £50 (more than double a basic monthly salary), to be paid to the Sowei (practitioner performing the cutting). Families would rather remove their children from school (costing around £15/year) to save money for initiation than allow their girls to finish their education. The female drop out rate from school due to FGM is high.
If a girl has not yet been initiated, she will be relentlessly bullied by initiated members until she herself goes through the process. This social pressure is often what drives many girls to want to be initiated, simply to avoid bullying.
In the rare case where a girl does not want to be initiated, usually because they have somehow acquired the rare knowledge of what would happen to them should they enter the Bondo Society, must never speak of the Society or the initiation practice, otherwise the senior society members will come for her in the middle of the night (often with permission of the parents), kidnap the girl from her bed, forcefully hack off her clitoris, and put her back, mutilated and traumatised.
In addition to FGM workshops, the education centre will be a solar powered space where the children of the village attending school can come and study whenever they want with light and a desk.