Wati Kura: A Break Through Moment in Anti-FGM Activism

Artist: Lulu Kitololo

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is rooted in patriarchy, and is a form of violence against girls and women. While there is a rich history of resistance against the widespread practice by girls’ and women activists over the years, there had also been a culture of fear — couched as cultural reverence — that contributed to its unchecked and almost universal practice in Sierra Leone for decades.

Years of grassroots organising, advocacy and greater knowledge of the impact of FGM — as well as international consensus have finally shifted the tide. While there are positive signals on law reform and a general changing policy landscape, an end to the entrenched culture of FGM requires deep structural change, which calls for relentless and ongoing action to challenge the norms and narratives, as well as the social, political, and economic institutions that uphold and reinforce the practice.

As part of this initiative, we will support and work with allies to challenge the narratives about gender and power across communities and continue working towards shifting the practice to a “bloodless rite”–while honouring the ancestral power of the Bondo in a space free from cutting.

Historically, only social movements have had the potency, inspiration, and longevity to challenge and shift deeply rooted conceptions of power, justice, and equality. Working in solidarity with local organisations, girl activists, feminist allies and building on years of organising and action in this space;

Purposeful aims to create sustained action to eradicate FGM by:

1) resourcing the resistance of girl activists and their feminist allies to power grassroots led change to bloodless rites;

2) building solidarity between activists and allies to drive policy change; and

3) amplifying voices to shift the narrative around gender, power, and FGM. This is done in partnership with our partners and allies in communities.

Introducing Our Key Partners:

1) Amazonian Initiative Movement [AIM SL], headed by Rugiatu Neneh Turay and pioneers of the Bloodless Rite- they are Changing Social Norms to End FGM in Masimera and Koya, Port Loko district.

2) Girl Child Network Sierra Leone (GCN), headed by Anita Koroma is engaging parents/caregivers and community stakeholders in addressing FGM in the Bombali District of Sierra Leone through advocacy and inter-generational community dialogue.

3) Girlz Empowered Ltd Sierra Leone (GE) headed by Diaka Salena Koroma is a Youth Led Movement- working to end FGM using creative arts and messages.

4) Katanya Women’s Development Association(KaWDA) headed by Ann-Marie Caulker uses agriculture and entrepreneurial skills to end Female Genital Mutilation in Sambaia Bendugu Town, Tonkolili District.

5) Keep the Drums Lose the Knife (KDLK) headed by Sarian Kamara,conducts community workshops and Safe spaces in Kambia and Bombali Districts.

Why The New Moment?

Across the continent of Africa, about 92 million girls 10 years of age and older have been put through Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), also referred to as Female Genital Cutting. Among countries where FGM is practiced, Sierra Leone continues to have one of the highest rates in the world, with 9 out of 10 women and girls having undergone FGM .

We will employ a combination of activities including community consciousness-raising and strategic litigation to influence the Government of Sierra Leone to make and implement an explicit law that bans the practice of FGM/C and to aid efforts to shift mindsets on the harmful effects of FGM/C on girls and women in Sierra Leone. We want girls to live in freedom, dignity, and ultimate safety in their communities.

Our goal is clear: to end FGM in Sierra Leone. How are we going to get this done?

We have three objectives with Wati Kura:

  1. The popularisation and acceptance of an alternative rite of passage.

Through a series of small grants to feminist allies and grantee partners, we will support this mobilization of change at community level.The partners will implement activities including facilitating community dialogues which shift perspectives on FGM through deep listening, and where communities can consider, define, and adopt strategies that honor the rite of passage while abandoning the cutting.

Our partners also engage Soweis, the women who conduct the cutting, to more deeply understand their power and opportunity as changemakers, and where possible, link them to alternative livelihoods. This is extremely important to bring in Soweis as active partners in the fight against FGM, and support their transition into conducting a bloodless rite, while maintaining the cultural heritage and power of the female only society.

2. To mobilise a strong network of activists and allies to define an advocacy strategy for the adoption of a national strategy to end FGM.

By facilitating convening of national activists to define a collective strategy for the adoption of a national policy, we hope that this will encourage intergenerational dialogue and skills building. A key tenet of our principles is prioritising wellness in our activism, and we will support collective healing and wellbeing for women and girl activists in these spaces.

3. To amplify allies’ voices and document their journeys and actions.

Storytelling is one of our most powerful mediums for change and we will leverage it to influence a shift in norms and behaviour about FGM through screening of a Bloodless Rite, a short documentary on alternative rites of passage which has consistently served as a catalyst for community dialogue on FGM since its release and other media assets and resources.

Looking Ahead

Our advocacy takes different forms in different places, for example working with girls to lobby for change in their communities, co-creating new policy provisions with local authorities, or holding governments to account through formal legal systems.

We enter all of our work through a power-building lens — redistributing power assets, building collective power, organising power holders and transforming power structures. This power building lens frames our five-year strategy and priority initiatives. Under our work to transform power structures, our 5-year goal is to:

‘Support girls and their movement allies to change targeted policies, laws, and political practices in Sierra Leone and other spotlight countries.’

A feminist movement-building hub that amplifies girls’ voices, resources their resistance, builds solidarity and catalyses collaborative philanthropy.