Around Her Neck

Today is International Women's Day and the latest issue of The Observer quite rightly takes the opportunity to highlight the appalling gender inequalities that still exist around the world. If you've got a few minutes to spare, I'd urge you to read these articles: Liberia: A Land Divided by Emma Thompson and Tindy AgabaFeminism's Global Challenge by Mariella Frostrup and Sister Act by Rosie Swash. And if you really haven't got any time, then just read this extract from Thompson and Agaba's piece. It shows that there's still plenty of work to be done and that we can't afford to be complacent.

At the radio station I hear this story of a 10-year old girl who, according to custom, was taken by her grandmother into the bush to be initiated into the Sande Society, the traditional female organisation.

Along with 25 others, her clitoris was cut away, the same knife being used for all. One of the girls started to bleed excessively. They tied a noose around her neck and dragged her about until she was dead. All the women made loud noises as this occurred. The 10-year-old asked her grandmother why. The old woman told her it was not permitted to die alone in the forest and her family would be told that the devil had taken her. Then the child asked why the women had made all the noise. It was so that her screams would not be heard in the village.

Next, the initiates were made to lie on the ground, where they were covered in fresh grass. They had to lie for three days without food until the grass was dry. Then a meal was prepared. There were little knobs of meat in the food and when the child asked what they were, the grandmother said that if the clitorises were eaten in this way, it would ensure that any child who dared to speak about what they had seen would surely die.


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