Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Women's Rights Are Human Rights

Last week, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female president of Liberia, was named as one of the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. This recognition was applauded by people around the world, as President Johnson Sirleaf is actually the first woman to be elected president in modern-day Africa. The New York Times article covering the Prize (, contains a quote from Johnson Sirleaf on the honor,
"We particularly give this credit to Liberian women, who have consistently led the struggle for peace, even under conditions of neglect."

Well, "conditions of neglect" is a rather large understatement. The title of this blog post is the link to the 2011 Amnesty International Report on Liberia. It notes that levels of rape and sexual violence against women and girls is at a very high level, despite Johnson Sirleaf's professed admiration for Liberian women. However, what truly shocked me is the statement contained in the section on Children's Rights. Amnesty International finds that female genital mutilation is still widespread in rural areas. The most horrifying fact? FGM is not specifically prohibited by law in Liberia.

I do not understand how the first female elected to president in modern Africa can lead a government that does not criminalize FGM, and instead seems to be willfully blind to the prevalence of this inhumane practice. It is incredible to me that a woman could ignore, and by extension, condone, such a violent act perpetrated against women and young girls. Despite the praise from around the world for Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, I do not believe that progress can be made in Liberia until she makes an honest effort to reform Liberian laws and explicitly condemn FGM. As Hillary Clinton said, "It is no longer acceptable to discuss women's rights as separate from human rights."

1 comment:

Cosima said...

Ellen Sirleaf, despite being the first female president of Liberia, could have undergone FGM when she was a teenager herself. I am in no way making an excuse for her willful blindness to FGM acceptable; however, if she has undergone FGM, it would make sense to me that Sirleaf would not criminalize FGM. It is disheartening that the first female president does not make the practice of FGM illegal. As you said, it seems to be that Sirleaf does condone this practice; a practice that is not only dangerous when it is performed but also after due to the risk of infection.