The Liberian President's Last Move In Office Was To Ban Female Genital Mutilation For One Year

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was also Africa's first female president.

Former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf used her last day in office on Jan. 22 to make an important statement about the rights of women and girls in the country by signing an executive order that bans female gentile mutilation. Organizations estimate that about half of the west African country's female population have undergone the practice, which for some, is still considered a rite of passage. While it remains to be seen how enforced the law will be, it is nevertheless an important final statement from Africa's first female president.

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Under the executive order, it is illegal to subject anyone under the age of 18 to FGM, but the practice remains legal to carry out on a consenting adult. As the ban only holds for the next year, activists are urging Johnson Sirleaf's successor George Weah to pass legislation that permanently bans FGM in the country.

"We know this is still a taboo topic in some communities, but we are seeing signs that attitudes are changing," Lakshmi Moore, acting country director with aid agency ActionAid told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

UNICEF estimates that at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM. While overall, the prevalence of the practice has declined, it remains almost universal in Somalia, Guinea and Djibouti, in each of which UNICEF estimates the rate of FGM to be over 90 percent. 

The  reasons for why the practice is performed vary among different cultures. But FGM is recognized by the medical community to have zero health benefits and will often lead to longterm medical complications. 

"The cutting and sewing of a young child's private parts so that she is substantially damaged for the rest of her life, has no sensation during sex except probably pain, and may well face further damage when she gives birth, is to many an obvious and horrifying violation of that child's rights," Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN Women said in a statement on the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation last year. "It is a kind of control that lasts a lifetime."

Cover image via a katz / Shutterstock

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