Authors : AGUEH Dossi Gloria – RFLD President and HOSSOU Lea – RFLD Information Officer
This article explores the absence of a legislative framework to combat FGM in Mail, Liberia, and Sierra Leone and the potential role of regional human rights bodies in accelerating its elimination. FGM is practiced in many parts of the world, including Mali, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. In these three countries, the prevalence of FGM is high, with over 70% of girls and women having undergone the procedure.
Cross-border FGM is a particular challenge in Mali, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. These countries share porous borders, and communities often have close cultural and family ties across borders. This makes it easy for girls and women to be taken to another country to undergo FGM, even if it is illegal in their home country.
The Absence of Legislative Frameworks
Mali: In Mali, FGM remains prevalent, especially in rural areas. While the Malian government has shown zero commitment to addressing the issue, there is a lack of comprehensive national legislation that explicitly criminalizes the practice. The absence of a legal framework is insufficient to deter communities from engaging in FGM, which continues to be deeply rooted in tradition.
Liberia: Liberia has taken steps toward addressing FGM through its 2008 Children’s Act, which bans FGM for individuals under 18. However, there are no specific laws that fully prohibit FGM for all age groups. This gap in the legal framework presents a challenge to effectively eradicating the practice.
Sierra Leone: Sierra Leone has made significant progress in recognizing the harm caused by FGM, but it has yet to pass comprehensive legislation prohibiting the practice. In 2020, a proposed bill was tabled in Parliament, but its passage remains pending. The absence of a legal framework makes it difficult to hold perpetrators accountable.
The role of regional human rights bodies
Regional human rights bodies can play an important role in accelerating the elimination of cross-border FGM in Mali, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. These bodies have a number of mandates that can be used to promote and protect the human rights of women and girls, including the right to be free from FGM.
One of the most important roles that regional human rights bodies can play is to monitor and report on the implementation of international human rights standards, including those related to FGM. This can help to identify gaps in implementation and hold governments accountable for their commitments.
Regional human rights bodies can also provide guidance and support to governments on how to develop and implement effective laws and policies to eliminate FGM. This can include providing technical assistance on drafting legislation, developing training programs for law enforcement officials and judicial personnel, and supporting public awareness campaigns.
In addition, regional human rights bodies can play a role in adjudicating individual and collective complaints of FGM. This can help to ensure that survivors of FGM have access to justice and that perpetrators are held accountable.
Engaging regional human rights bodies
There are a number of ways to engage regional human rights bodies on the issue of cross-border FGM in Mali, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
One way is to submit communications to the relevant bodies. This can be done by individuals, communities, or organizations. Communications should provide detailed information about the alleged human rights violations, including the names of survivors and perpetrators, if known.
Another way to engage regional human rights bodies is to participate in their meetings and hearings. This provides an opportunity to present evidence of FGM and to call on the bodies to take action to address the problem.
Organizations can also advocate for regional human rights bodies to adopt resolutions and recommendations on FGM. This can help to raise awareness of the issue and to encourage governments to take action.
Finally, organizations can work with regional human rights bodies to develop and implement joint action plans on FGM. This can help to ensure that the bodies’ work is coordinated and that it has a real impact on the ground.
Regional human rights bodies that can be engaged
Some of the regional human rights bodies that can be engaged on the issue of cross-border FGM in Mali, Liberia, and Sierra Leone include:
- African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR)
- African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR)
- Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice
In addition to the challenges of engaging regional human rights bodies, CSOs also face a number of challenges at the national level in their efforts to eliminate FGM.
One challenge is the lack of political will to address FGM. In Mali, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, FGM is deeply rooted in culture and tradition. Many politicians are reluctant to take action against FGM, for fear of alienating their constituents.
Another challenge is the lack of financial resources. CSOs that are working to eliminate FGM often rely on donor funding. However, donor funding can be unpredictable and unstable. This can make it difficult for CSOs to plan and implement long-term programs.
CSOs also face challenges in building and maintaining relationships with government officials. In some cases, government officials may be hostile or dismissive of CSOs. This can make it difficult for CSOs to advocate for change and to hold governments accountable for their commitments.
Finally, CSOs also face challenges in reaching and educating the public about FGM. Many people in Mali, Liberia, and Sierra Leone have limited access to information and education. This can make it difficult for CSOs to change attitudes and behaviors towards FGM.
Despite the challenges, CSOs are playing a vital role in the fight to eliminate FGM in Mali, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. By engaging regional human rights bodies and working at the national level, CSOs are helping to raise awareness of the issue, advocate for change, and support victims of FGM.
How to support CSOs working to eliminate FGM
There are a number of ways to support CSOs that are working to eliminate FGM in Mali, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
One way is to provide financial support. CSOs rely on donor funding to implement their programs. Donations can be made directly to CSOs or through organizations that support CSOs working on FGM.
Another way to support CSOs is to provide technical assistance. CSOs may need assistance with developing and implementing programs, conducting research, and building capacity. Technical assistance can be provided by individuals or organizations with expertise in FGM.
Finally, individuals and organizations can also support CSOs by raising awareness of the issue of FGM and advocating for change. This can be done by writing to government officials, participating in public events, and sharing information about FGM on social media.
By supporting CSOs, individuals and organizations can help to accelerate the elimination of FGM in Mali, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
Work of Réseau des Femmes Leaders pour le Développement (RFLD) at the regional level to eliminate FGM
RFLD is a pan African regional network of women leaders for development that is working to eliminate FGM in Africa. The network has an Observer Status with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), which gives it access to and the ability to engage directly with two important mechanisms of the ACHPR: the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and the Special Rapporteur on Women’s Rights.
At the regional level, RFLD works to eliminate FGM by:
- Advocating for the adoption and implementation of laws and policies to prohibit and punish FGM. RFLD works with governments and other stakeholders to develop and implement laws and policies that protect women and girls from FGM. The network also works to ensure that these laws and policies are effectively enforced.
- Raising awareness of the harms of FGM and promoting its abandonment. RFLD conducts public education campaigns to raise awareness of the physical, psychological, and social harms of FGM. The network also works to promote the abandonment of FGM by changing social norms and attitudes.
- Supporting victims of FGM and their families. RFLD provides support to survivors of FGM and their families, including medical, psychosocial, and legal support. The network also works to empower victims of FGM to speak out against the practice and to advocate for their own rights.
How RFLD’s Observer Status with the ACHPR helps to eliminate FGM
RFLD’s Observer Status with the ACHPR gives it a number of advantages in its work to eliminate FGM.
First, it gives RFLD access to the ACHPR’s mechanisms, such as its Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights Defenders and Women’s Rights. RFLD can use these mechanisms to raise awareness of FGM, to advocate for the adoption and implementation of laws and policies to prohibit and punish FGM, and to support victims of FGM and their families.
Second, RFLD’s Observer Status with the ACHPR gives it credibility and legitimacy. As an accredited observer, RFLD is seen as a credible and reliable source of information on FGM. This gives the network’s work more influence and impact.
Third, RFLD’s Observer Status with the ACHPR gives it access to a network of other civil society organizations that are working on human rights issues. This network can provide RFLD with support and resources, and it can help the network to amplify its voice.
Overall, RFLD’s Observer Status with the ACHPR is a valuable asset in its work to eliminate FGM. The network’s access to the ACHPR’s mechanisms, its credibility and legitimacy, and its network of other civil society organizations give it a unique platform to advocate for change and to support victims of FGM.