Challenging harmful traditional practices in Sierra Leone

By Global Fund for Children | June 8, 2022 | Africa & The Middle East | Freedom from Violence & Exploitation, Gender Equity

This guest blog post was written by Alusine Rogers, a Communication Specialist at Women Against Violence and Exploitation in Society (WAVES) in Bo, Sierra Leone.

With knowledge gained from GFC partner WAVES, 14-year-old Aminata is standing up for her right not to undergo female genital cutting.

While Aminata* was on holiday in Bo, Sierra Leone, her mother commenced arrangements for her to be initiated into the Bondo female-only secret society and undergo female genital cutting (FGC). However, 14-year-old Aminata’s priority was not to go through FGC but to continue her education.

“When my mother sent a message to me inviting me to cut short my holidays and return to the village, informing me that she wants me to join the Bondo bush, I refused to return,” Aminata said.

In Sierra Leone, FGC forms part of the Bondo initiation ceremony that confers womanhood, locally called Bondo bush. Many girls become pregnant after undergoing FGC, and teenage pregnancy is the leading cause of school drop outs among Sierra Leonean girls in some districts.

Aminata told her parents that her focus is her education and that she was not going to disrupt it with FGC. Fortunately, she was supported in her decision by her father.

“My father was very supportive of my decision not to be initiated into FGC but to be an educated woman. When I shall have been educated and become a nurse, I want to come back and help the health and wellbeing of my people,” Aminata told Women Against Violence and Exploitation in Society (WAVES), a GFC partner organization based in Bo, Sierra Leone.

A photo of WAVES staff

WAVES staff in front of their office in Bo, Sierra Leone. © GFC

WAVES develops girls’ capacity to speak out against sexual and gender-based violence, advocate for sexual and reproductive rights, and become agents of change in their communities. The organization also conducts extensive community outreach on FGC and child marriage and advocates for policy changes to benefit girls and women.

Both Aminata and her father made the decision against FGC after taking part in WAVES’s training and mentoring sessions on the negative effects of FGC.

Due in large part to WAVES’s outreach efforts, Aminata and her father are not the only people to stand against FGC in this community. Saidu Johnny, Deputy Chief Imam of Nengbema, also recently declared that he would not subject his teenage daughter to the practice.

“The taboo surrounding the topic has made our people to consider FGC as women’s business, thus preventing women from freely discussing their experiences of harm and suffering caused by the practice,” he said. “FGC destroys the education of girls, and I wouldn’t want that to happen to my daughter, as I want her to be an educated woman.”

In 2020, WAVES joined GFC’s Ending Violence, Empowering Girls initiative, which is a partnership between Tides Foundation, People’s Postcode Lottery, and GFC. As part of this initiative, WAVES has been able to build the agency of adolescent girls and boys to initiate, plan, and take actions aimed at realizing their rights and reaching their full potential. WAVES also works with parents, especially men, on good parenting behaviors and the need to create a safe and enabling environment for women and girls.

Hannah Yambasu holding a microphone

Hannah Yambasu, the Executive Director of WAVES. © WAVES

In addition to building the confidence of girls to speak out on issues that affect their wellbeing and to take on leadership roles, WAVES has established movement-building girls’ clubs and creates safe spaces to raise awareness about issues like FGC, early marriage, and teenage pregnancy so that adolescent girls have the information they need to make informed decisions.

“In Sierra Leone, the issue of FGC is so sensitive that you must have lots of courage to speak against it. Despite the threats that I received every day for speaking out against harmful traditional practices, particularly FGC and early marriage, courage gives me the boldness never to give up,” said Hannah Yambasu, the Executive Director of WAVES.

In recognition of the courage and dedication of Hannah and her staff, WAVES was named a 2022 Juliette Gimon Courage Award winner.

In April 2022, six adolescents and three adult assistants from WAVES joined over 100 young people from Liberia and Sierra Leone at the first West Africa Adolescent Girls Summit in Liberia. Addressing harmful traditional practices like FGC and child marriage was one of the summit’s focus issues – all of which were chosen by the participating teens.

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of this WAVES program participant.

Header photo: Girls reading during a visit to WAVES’s office in Bo, Sierra Leone. © GFC

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