The UN Special Rapporteurs Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences; Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions; Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health recently issued a joint statement in response to the death of Maseray Sei, a 21-year-old woman who died from female genital mutilation (FGM)-related complications in December 2021. After her death, Equality Now, together with 130 women’s rights organizations worldwide, co-signed an open letter calling on the Government of Sierra Leone to criminalize FGM and protect women and girls from this harmful practice. The cutter in Maseray Sei’s case is currently facing prosecution for manslaughter in one of the first FGM cases in the country to be taken to court.
Maseray’s case is emblematic of a broader problem in Sierra Leone, where 83% of women and girls aged 15 to 49 have undergone FGM, yet there is no legal protection or recourse. Many women and girls have died over the years, and thousands live with the devastating consequences of this gross human rights violation.
The UN Special Rapporteurs have called on the Government of Sierra Leone, through President Julius Maada Bio, to take urgent action and put in place comprehensive measures to end FGM. Their statement noted that the failure to pass a law on FGM violates the government’s obligations under the regional and international legal frameworks that Sierra Leone has ratified. These include CEDAW and the Maputo Protocol, which call on States to protect women and girls from harmful practices, including FGM.
The communication issued by the UN experts also calls on the Government of Sierra Leone to comprehensively protect its women and girls from this harmful practice by criminalizing FGM without exception to age and guaranteeing their right to bodily integrity.
Acknowledging that FGM is a human rights violation means that there must be consequences for those subjecting women and girls to this harmful practice. An anti-FGM law in Sierra Leone will not only ensure that there are penalties and consequences but that survivors of FGM have an opportunity for redress.
While ending FGM requires a multi-pronged approach, we believe that legal equality is the first critical and fundamental step towards ending FGM and definitively addressing gender equality.
In view, of the urgency of the situation, given the recent fatalities of FGM victims as well as the horrific narratives shared by numerous survivors, we hope that the Government of Sierra Leone will pass an anti-FGM law, ensure justice for the death of Maseray Sei, and fulfill its obligations to end FGM in line with its international and regional commitments.