Amazonian Initiative Movement (AIM), Sierra Leone – Fight against Female Genital Mutilation

'Educating people means strengthening them. Only by changing the way of thinking, we can change peoples actions'. Rugiatu Turay (middle), founder and leader of AIM, with girls from the safe house. Photo: © AIM'Educating people means strengthening them. Only by changing the way of thinking, we can change peoples' actions.' 'Rugiatu Turay (middle), founder and leader of AIM, with girls from the safe house. Photo: © AIM

Project area: Lunsar (80km north east of the capital Freetown) and the surrounding district Port Loko, Sierra Leone

Supported by TDF since: 2009

Target group: Girls and young women threatened by female genital mutilation (FGM)

Background:

  • According to the International Association for Family Planning on the Situation of  Women in Africa (2018), about 90% of girls and women aged between 15 and 49 years are affected by FGM in Sierra Leone.
  • It is estimated that up to 50.000 circumcisers are active in the country, most of them being organized in so called women’s secret societies. FGM is one of the initiation rituals for girls in the transition from teenage years to womanhood.
  • In public discourse, FGM and its life-threatening consequences are still mostly tabooed. Politicians fear the influence of the secret societies and therefore often support the practice of FGM.
  • The Maputo Protocol (Protocol for the Rights of Women in Africa) was ratified by Sierra Leone as late as 2015 under the reservation of allowing FGM from an age of 18 years instead of implementing a total ban.
  • A National Strategy to ensure compliance with the minimum age of 18 years has not yet been developed. In 2018 and 2019, AIM was involved in a Civil Society Working Group on a National Action Plan to abolish FGM, prioritizing the concept of “ritual without cutting”. The Plan has recently been handed over to the government, so far without reaction. This does not come as a surprise, after Fatima Bio, First Lady of Sierra Leone, claimed in May 2019 that the government should take legal action against rape, not FGM. Harmful effects of FGM would first have to be proven. Activists and affected women heavily criticized Bio’s statement.

Project activities:

AIM is an independent non-governmental organization whose key areas of activity are the prevention and elimination of FGM in Sierra Leone. Furthermore, AIM engages in the fight against forced marriage and sexualized violence. AIM has its headquarters in Lunsar, about 80 km northeast of the capital Freetown. This is also the home town of the AIM founder and women's rights activist Rugiatu Turay.

When the organization started working, they broke a taboo by making FGM a subject of public discourse. Currently 15 staff members are working full- or part-time and several volunteers are supporting the organization. Rugiatu Turay is known far beyond Lunsar as a women’s right activist – both from her commitment with AIM and political positions she occupied in the past, for example as Deputy Minister for Social Affairs, Gender and Children for Sierra Leone from 2016 to 2018. In the latter she repeatedly put the topic of FGM on the political agenda and mobilized intensively for the protection and education of girls. Nevertheless, the harmful traditional practice of FGM is still considered socially acceptable by a wide section of the population. Important steps like raising awareness on FGM and involving influential community representatives in preventive action have been taken and first behavioral changes been observable. Yet it is still a long way to effectively overcoming FGM in Sierra Leone.

In the prevention work of FGM, AIM applies an integral concept that involves all relevant stakeholders in the sensitization and information campaigns: circumcisers, children and young adults, parents and teachers, health workers, as well as political, traditional and religious leaders.

AIM pursues the following objectives:

  • Protection from FGM: A safe house for girls fleeing from their families due to the threats of FGM, forced marriage, sexualized violence or child work. The safe house offers a safe space for up to 25 girls and young women between 8 and 20 years. Due to a call for donations via betterplace.org, we were able to generate enough funds to renovate the house and buy additional beds in 2018. In the house, there is a social worker who supports the girls to freely unfold their full potential. All girls continue their schooling or vocational education while in the safe house. This is particularly relevant because the threat of not paying for obligatory school fees anymore is used by many parents as leverage to impose FGM. In 2018 AIM took over the school fees for 15 girls living in the safe house. Additionally, the girls started to grow crops on the land around the house. Sometimes they even harvest enough to sell some of their products on the market.
  • Creating alternative livelihoods for circumcisers: AIM avoids to denounce or stigmatize circumcisers. Instead, they inform and raise awareness about the dangers and life-threatening consequences of FGM. Further, AIM offers literacy and farming courses as livelihood alternatives for (former) circumcisers. During the Ebola epidemic, (former) circumcisers were trained as multipliers and played an important role in contributing to the educational work about the disease.
  • Human rights education: Between 2017 and 2019, AIM trained young adults as peer ambassadors who then sensitized their friends and communities on human rights and human rights violations. Their commitment was recompensed by one-year scholarships covering school or vocational institutes’ fees or by an equivalent support for setting up own small-scale businesses.
    Furthermore, AIM developed a human rights teaching module that educates students about their rights. Meanwhile, this interactive workshop is taught at 15 schools in Port Loko district.

Impact:

  • In the safe house, AIM provides 20-25 girls with a safe living space. All residents have so far been saved from FGM. Many girls could return home safely after AIM had held mediation talks with their parents.
  • All previous residents of the safe house have so far continued their school education or vocational training. Some have meanwhile successfully graduated or found a job.
  • Through awareness raising activities, AIM has convinced about 60 circumcisers to renounce the harmful practice of FGM. About half of them now work as anti-FGM activists and accompany AIM’s sensitization campaigns.

Project manager: Rugiatu Turay

Contacts: Voluntary project coordinator Veronika Kirschner (sierra-leone@frauenrechte.de)
or TERRE DES FEMMES – department for International Cooperation (iz@frauenrechte.de)

AIM needs your support for:

  • running costs, maintenance and expansion of the safe house.
  • psychological and legal support and school- or vocational training fees for the girls in the safe house.
  • the remuneration of the safe house staff (matron, cook and watchman).
  • mediation talks with parents.
  • workshops, campaigns and peer ambassador training against FGM and other harmful traditional practices.

Support AIM with a one-time donation or contribute regularly and become a sponsor!

You can also donate to the following account, using the keyword “Sierra Leone” as a reference for your payment:

TERRE DES FEMMES e.V.
EthikBank
IBAN DE35 8309 4495 0103 1160 00
BIC GENODEF1ETK

 

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