|Girls recently initiated into Bondo Ceremony|
If you are in a room with 10 Sierra Leonean women, chances are at least 9 of them have gone through the traditional bondo initiation ceremony practiced by all local indigenous ethnic groups. While bondo is a rite of passage that ushers young girls into womanhood, by teaching them about hygiene, meal preparation, etc., female genital cutting or the removal of part or all of the clitoris, has also for generations been a critical component of bondo. This cutting done in the sacred bondo bush, sometimes leads to medical complications, psychological trauma, and rarely death.
If you ask many a ‘sowe’ (initiator) as to why female genital cutting is an important part of bondo, explanations range from the strange to sometimes ridiculous. Some believe that the clitoris will grow till it touches the ground, others; that the clitoris is unclean. There are also those who are convinced that removing partial or all of the clitoris reduces a woman’s sexual appetite making her a more devout wife. Finally, it is also believed that the pain experienced during the cutting makes girls strong enough to bear the weight of what it means to be a woman in society. A recent report from the Royal Commonwealth Society ranks Sierra Leone as the worst country to be born a girl of 50 countries surveyed by UK NGO Plan International, so perhaps there is some validity to girls needing strength to make it but i doubt that it comes from being cut at an age long before you can really understand life’s trials.
For the first time in Sierra Leone’s history in observance of ‘Zero Tolerance Day Against FGM/FGC and International Women’s Day, The National Movement for Emancipation (NaMEP) has launched the ‘Bondo Without Cutting Campaign’ with the initiation of 66 girls who went through all the traditional bondo rites except for the cutting. A medical practitioner was on site to examine the girls before and after the initiation to ensure that the girls had not been cut. The organization (NaMEP) hopes to initiate an additional 200 girls in Aberdeen, Western Area in the coming weeks.
Many are hoping that this will usher in a new era for bondo in Sierra Leone, one in which a creole girl like me will be happy to send her daughter knowing that she will not be traumatized by cutting rather make friends, learn traditional songs and dance, and join a sisterhood of her peers.