Bondo Society and Female Genital Mutilation in Sierra Leone

The other day I was having a conversion with my brother when like every other chat we got distracted off  to something else we never planned of talking about. Actually what let to that was that as we were chatting about – honestly I can’t remember as we were hip hopping randomly around trends and happenings in the country in general, before I heard drums rolling from the main street outside – I could hear adults and young girls singing and clapping their hand.

I went outside to look at what was happening and there were these young beautiful girls dressed up in well designed African regalia, faced painted with white chalk and clay singing traditional folk songs and dancing behind a masquerade as they go from house to house performing dance acts and money will be given to them in appreciation.

I was stunned by the whole ambience, the rhythm of the music and the percussion coming from the drum got my head nodding to the tune – therein I was made to understand that these girls were celebrating their rite of passage from “Bondo” (a traditional society school for women).

In Sierra Leone it called “Bondo Society” – What usually happen is young girls, mostly in their puberty stage are taken to a secret place in an enclosed hut or house somewhere (bush) in the village/town/city which looked like a fenced forest, locally called “Bondo Bush” – therein these girl are said to be trained and taught the tenets of womanhood and genitalia mutilation procedures will be carried out on them by elders in completion of the rituals which mean they’ve now become a “full woman”.

It is a norm or let me say a tradition and expectation in Sierra Leone that as a woman if you have NOT attended “Bondo” society school you are an “incomplete woman” – it is a kind of a cliché that carry so much fuss and “August meeting effect” that parents especially mothers go all out to make sure that their child goes through the school before they reach 18.

It is believed among women in Sierra Leone that girls that have undergone female genital mutilation (Bondo School Society) earn more respect among their peersa than those who have not or never did.

I was made to understand these girls undergo painful experience as their elders will use crude penknife to cut off part of their clitoris – some even bled from excessive loss of blood and they passed out in the process – some of the girls do die of pain from the experience.

Girls from age 11 are undergoing this ferrous experience daily in the Sierra Leonean society, all in the name of tradition.

It is estimated that between 100 and 140 million girls and women worldwide have undergone female genital mutilation – the removal of all or part of the female external genitalia as part of traditional institution rituals or marriage preparation customs.

The government of Sierra Leone I was made to understand has forbidden the practice for under age children but it not outrightly banned in the country so the practice is still being carried out despite NGO’s tremendous effort in raising awareness, among victims and perpetrators of this tradition.

According to statistics from the Family Support Unit of the Sierra Leone Police, sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) on teenagers has increased by 18% – the report also revealed that for every 100 (SGBV) related cases only 20 is likely to be prosecuted. These figures are a call for concern despite the mass education and awareness programs that is being carried out by the government to address this problem.

In February of this year, four female journalists were brutally attacked by the Bondo Society in Kenema, one of Sierra Leone’s largest cities. They were abducted, stripped and marched through the city after being accused of reporting on an anti-FGM campaign – this is how gross it can be with traditional fanatics in Sierra Leone – it took the Police and human right organization intervention before they were released.

FGM, partial and total removal of the external female genitalia continues to be practiced illegally throughout Africa today – 28 African countries are said to be involved. The shocking side of this practice is, about an estimated three million young women annually are forced to undergo FGM as an initiation into womanhood. FGM is also a custom in parts of the Middle East and Asia.

The affluent and élite families in trying to modernize the practice – seek the services of medical personnel to avoid the dangers of unskilled operations in unsanitary conditions – it still does not make it right as I battle in my mind to come to terms with the right or wrong reason of this tradition.

Studies have shown that the practice of FGM can result in infertility, pregnancy and childbirth complications, and psychological problems through inability to experience sexual pleasure.

Last year August, I read a Lancet researchers study online which made the strongest link yet between extreme forms of female genital mutilation and female fertility. Their findings offer the most compelling evidence to date that girls who have undergone genital mutilation in childhood could be at risk of infertility later in life.

As I ask further about the Bondo Society, my neighbour a female was telling me that in Sierra Leone FGM is performed crudely and sometimes with razor blades, penknives and even broken glass as key part of the initiation ceremonies that prepares the girls for womanhood and marriage – this left me gutted because I find it inhumane and barbaric for young girls at such a young age to go through that kind of pain without anaesthetic – Frankly it is not about being young or old – I don’t think any woman should be subjected to such practices in any form whatsoever.

UNICEF estimates that 90% of Sierra Leonean women are subjected to genital mutilation and by my watch with what I’ve seen since I have been in Freetown – I’ll agree because almost like every other weekend – girls are being graduated from these Bondo Society initiation schools.

66% of the Sierra Leonean population is illiterate and strongly inclined in traditional practices so educating the people will empower them to make right decision.

Religious leaders are beginning to voice out their distaste and opposition to the practice, making public declaration that their daughters will never be initiated – Pastors and Imams within local communities are preaching about the need to discontinue the practice, public awareness campaign are in motion by the government to the local communities as well.

I hope that people will drop their knives, parents and girls to become open about the practice, victims coming out to talk about the practice without vilification and for them to express their right to say ‘No’.

Open dialogue, communication and education seem the proactive way forward in curbing and bringing this practice to an end or else we will be subjecting young girls to this brutal and barbaric practice (Bondo Society) initiation that is killing and disfiguring young beautiful girls’ bodies all in the name of tradition.

@dantebello on Twitter

3 Responses to “Bondo Society and Female Genital Mutilation in Sierra Leone”

  1. Solai Luke Says:

    It is a interesting article! Thanks for it! Together with best regards Luke aka couchgool.

  2. I think you should use more images on your blog, but besides that, it is really great. Cheers.

  3. As a Group with journalism as our main background “Bondo Society and Female Genitilia Mutilation in Sierra Leone …” is right up our street and will keep checking for interesting additions to your post. If you want to know more about Sierra Leone visit us at %URL% … Well written, thank you 🙂

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