The Honourable Minister of Social Welfare, Gender & Children’s Affairs in the Republic of Sierra Leone, Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden has categorically stated that the Bondo Society is not under any current or proposed ban by the United Nations but that what the UN urges a ban of, was the specific practise of female genital mutilation.
She was speaking during a courtesy call on her by the National Sowie Council of Bondo Women on Tuesday 19th April 2016 at her Ministry’s conference room.
Over one hundred Bondo women clad in beautiful traditional colourful dress, travelled from all over the country to first of all congratulate the new Gender Minister on her appointment to such high office and also to lobby and persuade the Minister not to support any movement that will ban the Bondo society.
The Bondo Society is one of the cultural practices in Sierra Leone and other African Countries wherein women are initiated to become members in secret ceremonies witnessed only to their members. Supporters of Bondo society say inside the Bondo circles, women are trained to be productive in their societies, to take care of their homes and to learn medicinal herbal treatments.
Controversially within the secret initiation process is believed to be certain practises described as harmful. One such practise is that of circumcision of female anatomy of initiates which can lead to medical childbirth complications like fistula. Another harmful practise associated with Bondo is that of the initiation of girls under the age of 18 years as well as brutal kidnapping of women to be circumcised without their consent.
As a result of these practise, the United Nations in December 2012, passed a resolution urging States to specifically ban this circumcision of women known as the Female Genital Cutting (or FGM).
However, addressing the women to loud applause, the Gender Minister succinctly dilated on the dichotomy between Bondo Society as a whole entity and FGM as a singular specific issue. She said as a whole, there are traditional and cultural lessons taught to members of the Bondo society including the art of traditional medicine through herbs and leaves. She said there are some illnesses which western medicine cannot cure but which traditional medicine can provide a resolution of.
“Whilst the FGM aspect is a part of the Bondo society, the truth is that Bondo Society itself is much bigger than FGM. The United Nations has not banned Bondo. Let us get that very clear today that what the United Nations has urged member states to ban is the practise of FGM and not the sacred Bondo female societies,” Dr. Blyden said adding that if any adult woman desires to be initiated into the traditional ways of her ancestors and of her own volition, decides as an adult to undertake the initiation into Bondo society, then “I will fully support the right of that woman to willingly join the Bondo society as an adult”.
According to Honourable Dr. Sylvia Blyden, the Bondo society is a secret sorority of Sierra Leone women that provides a common ground for women to meet just like any secret sorority of women in any Western countries provides common ground for women to meet.
Dr. Blyden also highlighted how Bondo societies provide a means of alternative dispute resolutions; especially in rural areas where the members are so tightly bound to one another that they can agree to resolve issues amongst one another without burdening the local or judicial court systems.
Dr. Blyden however reiterated the need to have a continuous dialogue on the aspects of the society considered harmful including forceful initiations and also initiating children. She said dialogue within and without the Bondo society was needed. She informed the Sowies that, she is a trained medical doctor who delivered at least 20 women at childbirth before she graduated as a doctor. She said scarification from poor FGM exercises can result in development of fistula during childbirth which was amongst the reasons why FGM is being frowned upon.
Even though she herself, is not a member of the Bondo society, Dr. Blyden openly told the Bondo women that she has great respect for them, adding that, tradition and culture are the most important aspect in any society as they provide grounding. She said, the government has great respect for traditions and cultural values that were not harmful to its citizens.
Dr. Blyden also used the chance to express gratitude and appreciation to the Sowies for their massive support during her approval in parliament on April 5th 2016.
“You came out in such large numbers to tell President Koroma that you endorse his choice of me as your Minister responsible for Gender Affairs in this country. Everyone saw you dancing with colourful banners stating that Soweis and Bondo Women support the choice of Dr. Sylvia Blyden as Minister for women affairs in Sierra Leone. I am here now today to assure you that I will not let you down. We will sit together and dialogue and find the best way forward for the women of this country that will not be harmful. Rest assured though that as Gender Minister, I know that the concept of Bondo is much bigger than just this FGM, FGM, FGM issue,” the eloquent female minister ended to loud applause.
Earlier, the National Secretary General, National Sowie Council, Kharday Zorokong described Bondo as the only society that can bring all kinds of women together. She lamented that the ugly emergence of cliques and cults in the country was because of a void created by lack of sisterhood or brotherhood that African traditional societies create.
Madam Zorokong said as a council, they have met both government and UN bodies to ensure that the Bondo society is not abolished. The Bondo women promised that they will work in the interest of the women, and assured the minister that they will not only avoid initiating children and avoid forceful initiations but that they will “act as police” to report anyone caught in such illegal and harmful acts.
The National Sowie Council also used the forum to once again heartily congratulate the newly appointed minister whom they serenaded with loud traditional songs of approval.