Liberia: An Eye for an Eye – A Desperate Response to Violence Against Women

11 Year-Old Likely to Suffer Fistula after Forceful Genital Cutting Went Wrong in Sande Bush” was the scary caption of a story of callous cruelty published in the October 19, 2022 edition of the FrontPage Africa Newspaper. The life of an innocent little girl has been damaged forever and to what purpose? Many people, including me, were angry to learn of the incidence, not only because of its brutal nature, but also because the phenomenon has proven stubborn over the years, fuelled on by lip service from authorities.

Obviously impatient with the system, one of the readers, Mr. Anderson Wolo, was unapologetic in exhaling pent-up frustration at Female genital mutilation or FGM–a heinous, fossilized cultural practice that serves no apparent benefit in today’s Liberia. “Cut Farmatta private part too”, Mr. Wolo raved in the comment section. Farmatta is the so-called zoe woman, the traditional surgeon who had viciously assaulted the little girl with her ritual knife. I am sure Mr. Wolo deliberately chose his words to match the grossness of the zoe’s actions.

On reading his comment, I laughed, not out of disregard for the seriousness of the victim’s plight. But because his statement reminded me of an incident that transpired in my village many dozen moons ago. His ‘command to the air’ was underpinned by the principle of retributive justice or lex talionis(Latin for Law of Retaliation) which formed the basis of many ancient penal codes. Most famously for us, it is called Mosaic Law–which attempted to equilibrate crime and punishment. It was protecting both victims and perpetrators, so that victims would feel that justice has been served and perpertrators are not over-punished. I guess that is the strength of civilization. But must society consider the feelings of those harming others without first considering how their act of cruelty would affect them and make them feel? Well, I am not a lawyer, so I will check the brakes here and tell my story. And while I feel Mr. Wolo’s frustration, I am not propagating Moses Law here.

It is some 40 plus years ago in Wee Clan, District # 7 in Nimba County. It was late afternoon– the time when village folks would begin to get thing ready for the evening. I, along with a group of boys had returned to the village, I don’t recollect from where. But it was obvious there was tension in the air. A well-known grand uncle of mine was in his palava hut going ballistic. We were scared to pass nearby. But his anger was not projected at us. The fact is it didn’t need to be. Whenever this old man got angry everyone, in the town would feel the force of the storm. He had been a power broker in ages past, once a Tubman era Paramount Chief of the District. But he still somehow carried that clout of authority, though his power had long faded as evidenced by the dryness of the cow skull bones he decorated his palava hut with. Those were preserved bones of cattle he had slaughtered many years ago for feasts, but now mere tokens of his power and wealth, displayed for everyone to remember who he was or had been. It was much like how CEO’s and heads of institutions line their offices with trophies and accolades.

What was the old man angry about? His grievance was clearly communicated by the invectives he unabashedly spewed into the evening air. It was embarrassing and funny at the same time. “Bring my daughter out now! I will cut the ****** of any person who will cut my daughter’s *******!” he roared. Hey, abomination! We were witnessing history right before our eyes–a strong cultural taboo was been broken! Okay in plain language , this old man was angry at the village women for forcibly snatching his youngest and beloved daughter into the Sande Bush for ‘circumcision’ or appropriately excision or FGM

. He was trumpeting this threat at maximum capacity of his lungs. He would rise and circle the vicinity of his palava hut, stamping his long legs and pounding his own chest like agitated gorillas do. Occasionally, he would scurry towards the entrance to the Sande Bush, attempting to break in and snatch his daughter from there against all norms. I don’t doubt for a second that he would have if it were not for a group of elders persuading him not to. But there was no guarantee that they would eventually succeed in stopping him from committing this cultural sacrilege if his demand was not met. It became clear to all and the chief zoe and her entourage that this old man was not messing around.

Luckily the young lady did not face the knife. Her daddy had started his protest as soon as he got wind of the scheme to forcefully initiate her. Subdued into compliance, the disgraced women took a long detour in the forest and emerged from the other end of the village with the girl all but concealed in country cloth. She was encouraged by them to go straight to her dad who instructed someone to verify that nothing had happened to her. The town grew quiet but obviously there were mischievous giggling going on in our midst away from the old man and the aggrieved women.

I don’t know what irked my grand uncle that day to break so violently from such long- established tradition to which he faithfully ascribed in the past. I was too young to comprehend his motivations at the time because the practice was still so very popular in the clan. And I will never know because he is long deceased. But looking back, he deserves a medal for bravely standing up for his little girl. By his sheer will he set a strong precedence that even those legally clothed with the authority are afraid to emulate.

Today Liberia needs people like him; people who are not afraid to challenge destructive status quo. People who will not hesitate to protect our women and girls from undeserved and needless emotional and physical pain. One emerging voice in the struggle against FGM has been Journalist Mae Azango, who has shown tenacity in the face of threats against her person. She did a story in the FPA August 30, 2022 edition of FPA alerting authorities to resolution made by FGM practitioners in Margibi to defile the GOL three year ban on the act. Those people translated their words into action as evidenced by the recent victimization of the 11-year-old girl. GOL must enforce its own laws and dictates! It is our collective task to make this stop. NO TO FGM! Thank you Mae, keep up the fight. And thank you Uncle, RIP!

Obed W. Dolo. MD, Specialist Obstetrician/Gynecologist, Specialist Obstetrician/Gynecologist,

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