Despite attempts internationally and by local governments, female genital mutilation continues to devastate women and girls. Female genital mutilation is a non-medical procedure practiced in 29 African countries that involves the removal of the clitoris and either all or part of the labia; in some cases, the vaginal opening is also sewn shut.
In Sierra Leone, female genital mutilation is a traditional rite of passage for young women performed by a secret society known as the Bondo. This society is comprised entirely of women and operates under a strict hierarchical system. The Soweis are the highest-ranking members and are typically older women who hold considerable influence in local governments. In Sierra Leone, 90 per cent of women aged 15 to 49 have undergone female genital mutilation.
Over 95 per cent of female genital mutilation procedures are done by a traditional practitioner who has no medical training. Young girls, typically under 15 years old, are taken to mud huts by their parents and forced to lay down with their legs spread. The procedure is then performed by the Sowei without the use of antiseptic or anesthesia.
Women sometimes bleed to death during the procedure, while survivors face infections, cysts, and problems during childbirth. Yet despite the risks and brutality, it remains a popular practice. A large number of females in Sierra Leone encourage it, especially those from poor and uneducated areas. Research shows 80 per cent of women with no education believe the practice should continue. In comparison, only 49 per cent of women with a secondary education or higher believe this.
When a female undergoes female genital mutilation, she is initiated into the Bondo society. In many cases, the girl is taken out of school and forced to live with the Bondo for several months while undergoing various rituals and learning about married life. When she returns home, the girl is considered ready for marriage and formal education virtually ends. The cycle of uneducated women in Sierra Leone will continue as a direct result of this practice until these women are allowed to learn about their rights and their health.
That is why Beautiful World focuses on women in Uganda, Rwanda and Sierra Leone who wish to attend post-secondary education. By working with various donors and organizations both in Canada and on the African continent, we set up scholarship funds for young women to finance their entire university or college studies. Scholarship recipients are propelled into a learning environment with the promise of a bright future for themselves, their families and their future daughters.
Find more information at www.beautifulworldcanada.org.