The Ebola Epidemic Halted Female Genital Cutting in Sierra Leone: Temporarily
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This chapter discusses the occurrence of female genital cutting (FGC) in Sierra Leone before, during, and after the West African Ebola virus epidemic. Female genital cutting, also termed female genital mutilation or female circumcision, is a procedure that involves the removal of parts or all of the entire external female genital organs, or other injuries to the external female genital organs, for nonmedical reasons. Sierra Leone has one of the highest rates of FGC in the world, with up to 90% or more of all girls and women having undergone the procedure. In Sierra Leone, it is associated with membership in a secret women’s society, the Bondo Society, which yields enormous social and political power throughout the urban and rural areas of the country. Because it is typically performed under unhygienic circumstances, FGC can result in numerous medical complications including recurrent genitourinary infections, sepsis, pain, hemorrhage, infertility, and even death. FGC is internationally recognized as a violation of the basic human rights of girls and women. During the Ebola epidemic that began in Sierra Leone in 2014, there was a governmental ban on FGC to prevent Ebola virus transmission, not only to the children and girls who were at risk for undergoing the procedure, but also to protect the soweis—older women who are the senior members of the Bondo societies and who perform the circumcision. However, once the Ebola epidemic was over in 2015, there was a return to “business as usual” by the country’s soweis and FGC has returned. In the post-Ebola era, efforts continue to eliminate FGC from Sierra Leone.
KeywordsSierra Leone Female genital cutting Female genital mutilation Female circumcision Human rights Reproductive rights Sowei Secret society Bondo society Sante society Coming of age Excision Infibulation Clitoridectomy Children’s rights Women’s rights Ebola epidemic
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