Liberian activist and writer Mae Azango is in hiding after her story on female genital cutting ran in the newspaper Front Page Africa. The story, published on March 8 to coincide with International Women’s Day, has enraged Liberian tribeswomen who are members of the secret Sande society, which still performs the brutal procedure.
Female genital cutting (FGC), also referred to as mutilation, is a millennia-old practice in rural regions of African nations, in which all or part of the female genitalia is cut away, most often using crude instruments and no anesthesia. Young girls are usually forced by their mothers to undergo the procedure before they reach sexual maturity, as the tradition holds that reducing sexual pleasure and desire will reduce promiscuity. Apart from the very serious risk of infection, excessive bleeding, HIV transmission and death at the time of the procedure, women who underwent FGC as adolescents often experience difficulty in childbirth and in having normal sexual activity with a partner or spouse.
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The United Nations, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and a host of other agencies are working to end the practice. Currently, only Liberia and eight other African nations are the only states with no laws banning the procedure, and ten of Liberia’s 16 tribes still practice FGC.
As soon as Azango’s story ran, she began to receive phone and email threats to her home and office. Sande women, she says, are especially angry because the story was written by a Liberian woman, instead of by white outsiders. Because Azango interviewed a woman who had undergone FGC as a girl, her story also broke the Sande vow of absolute secrecy, by which women are threatened with death if they speak out about the practice. Azango vows to continue to write about and advocate for an end to FGC, which, despite longstanding cultural tradition, much of the world views as a barbaric practice committed against unwilling victims.
Read more at The Daily Beast.