Rights Groups Criticize Exclusion of FGM Ban in Domestic Violence Bill

MONROVIA, Montserrado – Leading rights organizations have registered their dissatisfaction that the current version of the Domestic Violence bill has no ban against female circumcision.

The organizations, such as the Liberia Feminist Forum, the #WeAreUnprotected Campaign, and other allies released a statement noting that the exclusion of the provision limits the ability of the proposed law to comprehensively address the impact of female circumcision on bodily integrity, sexual and reproductive rights, and education of women and girls that are subjected to the practice.

“The exclusion of [female genital mutilation] in the bill reduces the government’s ability to act on Articles 11 and 20 of the Liberian constitution. It reduces our obligation to the Maputo Protocol and other international instruments,” the rights groups said in a statement.

“We look forward to [the] government’s engagement and finalization of an anti-FGM law, through the National Legislature.”

Members of the House of Representatives voted on Thursday, July 4 to pass the Domestic Violence Act, following a series of consultations, including a public hearing. The bill has now been forwarded to the Senate for concurrence.

If passed by the Senate and signed by President George Weah, the new law would elevate domestic violence (including physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, and exploitation) to being serious crimes. The proposed law provides immediate and effective assistance and protection for victims and survivors.

River Cess’ second district representative and the chair of the Women Legislative Caucus, Rosana Shaack, reintroduced the bill on May 5, 2019, after the Senate passed a previous version in 2016 without a component banning female circumcision and making the practice a criminal offense.

While criticizing their lawmakers’ decision to avoid banning female circumcision, the women’s rights activists commended the House of Representatives for the passage of the bill.

They recognized the lawmakers’ action as an acknowledgment of women’s rights as a fundamental right and protection from domestic violence. The groups also said the decision by lawmakers was an indication that the government is responding to citizen advocacy.

“Against the background of being on the right side of history, and being accountable to the people of Liberia, we are hopeful that the Senate will fully concur with the House’s bill for the full passage for the protection and fulfillment of the rights of women, young people, children, and marginalized groups to be freed from domestic violence in Liberia,” the statement read.

“We celebrate and recognize the collective work, and years of mobilizing and activism by Liberian women rights organizations, feminist and social movements, other civil society and community based organizations, student activists, survivors, the media – especially the Female Journalist Association of Liberia – and marginalized persons affected by the scourge of domestic violence across Liberia.”

The organizations said the bill was a “critical legal instrument” that will ensure the protection of women, young people, children, and marginalized persons against sexual, physical, economic, verbal and psychological abuses, and all other forms of violence that affect their rights, integrity, health, and wellbeing.

“The bill will also accord the Liberian government an opportunity to strengthen the justice system to uphold the dignity of survivors and ensure that justice can be accessed and delivered in a responsive, effective and timely manner,” the groups added in their statement.

Featured photo by Mafanta Kromah

Gbatemah Senah

Gbatemah is a graduate of the University of Liberia and a recipient of the Jonathan P. Hicks Scholarship for Mass Communications. In 2017, Senah won three Press Union of Liberia awards: Women's Rights Reporter of the Year, Legislative Reporter of the Year, and Land Rights Reporter of the Year. In 2018, he was also recognized as the Land Rights Reporter of the Year.

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