Yes, I am unapologetically passionate about Bondo and Sande so anti-FGM activists be ready....
I’d like to truly applaud Rev Kabs-Kanu for his courage and grace in publishing my satirical piece on Caitlyn Jenner and parallels with Bondo initiation – especially since I was openly critical of his newspaper, Cocorioko’s publishing of a disparaging image to associate with the practice of female circumcision in Sierra Leone. I still insist the image was distasteful and disrespectful to the vast majority of women and girls in Sierra Leone who support Bondo/Sande.
What I want to highlight today speaks specifically to Kabs-Kanu's preamble to my article (here). In terms of the country’s record in promoting women’s sociopolitical empowerment, we will leave this for another day and another blog. But I can respond to the good Reverend’s remarks about Bondo/Sande and female circumcision in Sierra Leone today.
1. Yes, Kabs-Kanu, I am obsessed with Bondo/Sande, if this means that I am passionate and relentless in protecting the honor and dignity of my mother, aunts, grandmother and the majority of silenced women and girls in Sierra Leone who are Bondo/Sande then I accept this label with great pride. I have made a lot of personal and professional sacrifices to stand up for over two decades for what I believe is right. I have no qualms with being obsessed with countering the dangerous myths that are being uncritically recirculated surrounding female circumcision. I make no apologies for using my education, experience and knowledge to demand equal treatment and equal rights of Bondo/Sande women with the rest of adult women and men in the world. I will continue to insist on open access to and public debate of the medical evidence of the supposed differences between circumcised and uncircumcised women in terms of our long term reproductive and gynecological health and sexuality. Sorry, the usual sensationalist and bigoted propaganda is no longer going to fool the women of Sierra Leone.
2. With regard to one of those myths, I can address this right now -- the ludicrous idea that female circumcision is “dying” or “waning” in Sierra Leone, as Kabs Kanu states. The UNICEF 2013 Report on FGM/C identifies Sierra Leone as one of the highest prevalence countries with 88 per cent of girls and women ages 15-49 circumcised. Of this number, only 26 percent want to see the practice end. The UNICEF report states clearly that even the 26% figure could be inflated because of the expectations respondents have of what their “correct” response should be. What this basically means is that most circumcised women, just like most circumcised men, support their genital modifications.
3. Sierra Leone is no Nigeria. Nigeria has a relatively smaller minority of women who practice female circumcision and the outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan used the distraction of his last few weeks in power to push through and sign a bill to ban the practice. He had nothing to lose and a lot of goodwill to gain from western countries. In Sierra Leone, the vast majority of women in the country are circumcised and support female circumcision and form the largest voting bloc in the country. So Kabs-Kanu, remember that as you continue to allow the publication of dehumanising images of a traditional women’s institution that is of immense value to the bulk of women in our society.
4. As someone who has worked extensively on CEDAW as a consultant for UNICEF in The Gambia, I am very much familiar with its provisions as well as the behind the scenes politics that goes into forcing the hands of aid-dependent countries like Sierra Leone into compliance with those protocols that are not in the interest of the majority of women on the ground. In Sierra Leone, we will have this open debate on the international protocols that the GoSL has signed on to concerning the bodies of the vast majority of women in the country without their knowledge or participation in any of these formal and back door deliberations. We will have open and free discussions on human rights, the various conventions and whether specific special protocols promote the rights of all women to equality, non-discrimination and to self-determination with respect to female circumcision.
5. The good Reverend is certainly right that there are some women and girls who have had negative experiences, perhaps even horrific experiences in the Bondo “bush”. I am sure there are many men and boys with their own horror stories and fears of male initiation. Shall we call an end to male circumcision as well? I do believe that these self-styled “mutilated” women have rights and these rights ought to be protected by the GoSL. However, there are ways we can work together to advance solutions without using degrading language to insult the private parts of our mothers and grandmothers or to disparage an aspect of our culture that is still very meaningful for the vast majority of women and girls.
Further, I do think it is very relevant what western or white women do – since they are the ones with the power, money and resources to influence what happens to our African bodies in our own countries. Their own women and preadolescent girls are rushing in numbers to acquire the same genital surgeries that they condemn us for and yet we don’t see their disembodied faces on western magazine covers or the decontextualized pictures of bloody surgical tools held by some faceless and bodyless white hand. But Cocorioko newspaper has no compunction in portraying and disrespecting “our precious” Sierra Leonean women’s bodies in this way.
Of course, there is more to life than Bondo – this is a silly truism. But for the majority of women in Sierra Leone, Bondo remains a very meaningful part of daily life. Female circumcision has existed for thousands of years, has pre-existed male circumcision and all the Abrahamic religions as well as western civilization. Bondo and Sande have predated the very western feminist organizations that want to destroy these African female institutions of power. The practice will not end in our lifetime and we need to stop giving anti-FGM activists all the money they want simply to tell the world that they can end it – that they got this. The only thing that will come to an abrupt end is the heyday that many western feminists and some African women themselves have enjoyed in reproducing these ridiculous FGM meta-narratives about the sexual subjugation of circumcised African women.
6/16/2015 01:07:35 pm
You mention the transformation of androgynous children into men and women. That's my problem with being cut myself (as a male). I am androgynous. I'm not attracted to anyone, and circumcision makes solo sex quick and boring. It should have been my choice as an adult. Do you support an age of consent for genital surgeries?
6/16/2015 05:42:04 pm
Quite an authoritative and interesting response there. It comes with enough material for the good reverend's personal edification. I am at a loss as to how he chose to delve into a topic he evidentry has little or no knowledge about. I take it he is a Sierra Leonean and a provincial. He should have, on that account alone, desist from making comments certain to annoy the sensibilities of Sierra Leonean women.
6/17/2015 04:13:20 pm
Thanks for the shout-out Thombo-Bangura.
6/16/2015 08:25:43 pm
I will post this on my new website. I hope that's OK with you, Fuambai.
6/16/2015 09:31:16 pm
6/17/2015 05:52:03 am
I believed that bondo is a very barbaric and evil cultural practice. What is the benefit in mutilating young girls body parts? Bondo has to be stop in a
6/17/2015 04:27:45 pm
Mabinty, thanks for your comments. I believe that we are each entitled to our opinion. Perhaps you can explain a little better what you mean by "barbaric" and "evil". I agree with you and don't think there are any benefits in "mutilating" young girls or anyone anywhere. In fact, I don't use the term "mutilation" to describe myself or any other woman who is confident and happy being circumcised. Having said that, there are many benefits of female circumcision for the majority of Bondo and Sande women and girls in Sierra Leone who support the practice. Like male circumcision for the Jews, it is an honored tradition for those who value it and is celebrated for those reasons. Like male circumcision, the supporters of female circumcision in Sierra Leone feel that the procedure improves the appearance of the external genitalia and is more hygienic and easier to keep clean. These are personal views and experiences that may not be shared by women who are uncircumcised as well as some women who have been. This is entirely okay. Ideas about beauty and hygiene do not need to be shared by everyone. The important thing is that we move out this "barbaric" and "evil" talk and move towards an agreement on the age of consent at which certain procedures can be carried out on a child, irrespective of sex, gender, race, ethnicity, religion and so on. Hope this helps to clarify my own views, if that's what you were interested in.
6/19/2015 08:54:18 am
I noticed your allusions to the relationship between aid organisations and governments. The former make the provision of aid conditional on pursuing particular policies, while claiming to promote democracy and human rights.
6/20/2015 10:41:52 am
Once again, Zeinab, your observations are absolutely correct and highly relevant. One of the greatest evils of the policy of zero tolerance and criminalisation, as advocated by the anti-FGM activists, is the suffering caused to girls who are denied access to available clinical facilities and therefore are subjected to primitive and painful “back-street” circumcisions which carry the risks of disfigurement, disease, and death. The situation is exactly analogous to that which results from the criminalisation of abortion, and the activists truly have blood on their hands. A far more humane and enlightened policy is to encourage medicalisation, which gives the opportunity to progressively moderate the more extreme traditional practices while reducing the risks to a minimal level, and to require informed consent in social and cultural settings which make this appropriate.
6/21/2015 11:51:30 pm
Sia, one of the tragedies of our times is the lingering consequence of "victimhood" that continues to plaque the psyche of some of our kin. Your allusions to the likes of Gbla et al, is a case in point but you have to forgive them for their myopia. In this regard, priorities such as "maskitas", crumbled-health system responsible for most preventable deaths seems less of a concern to them..No doubt evolution dictates that customary practices morphs with time and bondo is not immune, though the essence of it is immutable.. And the irony now is that "FGM" has become entrenched in pockets of western societies even subsidies by government, cosmetic surgeons are now the new "sowehs" with lucrative perks. The way forward is to continue the dialogue, more importantly with the otherside..
9/17/2015 07:27:38 am
I am shock that we have people who said that they are PHD holders still supporting this senseless act in the name of tradition or bondo. It is a shame because there are lots of activities that can be created or already exists that young girls or women can be involved in, not this sinful, painful and nonsensical act that is called bondo and that have no meaning. And The Sad Part Is we Don't Know How Many People that have died following this practice. All I will say is put an end end to bondo society. Or female circumcision
1/19/2018 12:50:43 am
This, is a good article. Brilliant content and much fat in its authority. I hold the same view as hers. Very intelligent content. Africans should rise up and stand for their values.
Your comment will be posted after it is approved.
Leave a Reply.