THE BIRTH OF FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION IN SIERRA LEONE BY MADAM YOKO
Madam Yoko was called Soma as a child and was born in 1849 in Gbo Chiefdom. At puberty she was initiated in the Sande Society. After training for 9 months in the area of singing, dancing, medicine, child bearing and the role of being a wife and mother she was reintroduced into the society as an adult with the name of Madam Yoko.
Madam Yoko married her first husband who was a warrior named Gongoima. It was said due to excessive jealousy and possessiveness Madam Yoko left Gongoima. Madam Yoko then married her second husband called Gbenje who was a mende warrior and chief of Taiamav. Due to her responsibility she moved up from a junior wife to a senior wife. Gbenjie died and Yoko underwent purification ceremonies so that she can remarry.
Yoko remarried a war chief named Gbanya Lango, who was later arrested by the white colonial master as he rose up against them. Yoko used her skills to convince the colonial master to release her husband. Gbanya then elevated yoko to a senior wife. Gbanya died in 1878 and so yoko succeeded him and became the ‘Queen of Sennehoo’
Madam Yoko rose to power in the late 19th Century. Yoko used the sande society to establish a famous sande bush in Senehun. One way she became famous amongst the colonial master was because after preparing young wives for marriage and motherhood she would give them young girls to marry.
She started losing popularity amongst her people when she ordered her subchief to pay the 5-shilling tax. The people blamed her for supporting the British and rebelled against her. As a result, she in a barrack until it was said she committed suicide in 1906. As she didn’t have any child her brother Lamboi succeeded her.
The initiating of girls into adulthood still continues in Sierra Leone. FGM is mainly performed in Africa as well as a few countries in Asia and the Middle East. The worldwide estimation of how many women have undergone FGM is anywhere from 130 to 140 million. In the MICS conducted by UNICEF, the prevalence of FGM in Sierra Leone, Gambia, Burkina Faso and Mauritania was 94%, 79%, 74%, and 72% respectively. While in other countries in western Africa such as Ghana, Niger and Togo, the prevalence of FGM was less than 6%.
Roughly 3 million girls in Africa undergo FGM every single year and Sierra Leone is one of the only countries in western Africa where the rate of prevalence is over 90%. Sierra Leone is the only country in southern western Africa with such a high rate of FGM. There is a decline in prevalence of FGM in Sierra Leone in younger age groups.
The northern region has the highest prevalence and the Western the lowest.Northern 96.3%, Eastern 91.3%, Southern 88.6%, and Western 75.6%.In Sierra Leone, 40.2% of women from ages 15 to 49 who have experienced FGM underwent the procedure between the ages 10 and 14
FGM is practiced as a secret society known as the bondo society (an all-female society). As I explained earlier the main reason for the Bondo society is to prepare girls for marriage and motherhood. The initiation into the society occurs in the bondo bush which is a private enclosure constructed near their village. Time spent in the bondo bush for initiation into womanhood used to take about a month, but as the generations have gone by, the time has significantly reduced. Once a woman becomes a member of the bondo, she is able to go to the bondo without her husband's permission. The bondo becomes the only place women are allowed to go to without permission from their husband. Thus, women who are a part of the bondo have an increased freedom of movement.
In regard to society, members of the bondo are regarded as having a higher standing than other women. The cost of FGM and initiation into the bondo society is quite expensive, and so parents are proud when their daughters are initiated because it shows they are financially stable and able to afford this. Initiation can cost anywhere from 200,000 to 600,000 Leones, which converts to 62–185 dollars. Soweis, the leader of the bondo, tend to raise the price of the initiation into the society if the woman is not a virgin. FGM is so expected in society that when a husband discovers upon marriage that his wife has not undergone FGM, it is common for him to pay for her to undergo the initiation.
In Sierra Leone, FGM usually consists of removing the clitoris as a major part in preparing the young women for marriage and motherhood through this initiation ceremony. The procedure is usually performed by an elderly woman of the village who has been especially designated for this task, by a village barber or by a traditional birth attendant. FGM can be broken down into three types. Type I removes the tissue protecting the head of the clitoris. Type II removes the tissue protecting the head of the clitoris, the clitoris itself, and part of or all of the labia minora. Type III, the most extreme case, involves removing all or part of the external genitalia and stitching the vaginal opening closed.
I WOULD WRITE ON TESTIMONIES OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE TOLD ME ABOUT THEIR HORRIFIC EXPERIENCES THEY WENT THROUGH AND HOW THEY REGRETTED GOING THROUGH SUCH RITUALS. MANY COMPLAIN THAT THEY STILL SUFFER MENTALLY AS WELL AS PHYSICALLY. SOME SAY THEY FEEL LIKE HALF WOMEN AND DON’T ENJOY SEX AS A RESULT.OTHERS SAY IT IS AFFECTING THEIR SEXUAL EXPERIENCES WITH THEIR PARTNERS AS THE CLITORIS WHICH IS VERY IMPORTANT IN LOVE MAKING HAVE BEEN TAKEN AWAY.THIS I WOULD DEAL WITH IN MY NEXT BLOG ON FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION.
- Written by:
- Brenda Caesar Conteh
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- United Kingdom
- 28 Apr, 2021
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