Mae Azango set out to tackle the taboo subject of female genital mutilation in her home country of Liberia. The journalist's coverage forced her and her young daughter into hiding for weeks, but it also gained international attention and put pressure on the government.
By Rousbeh Legatis as originally published by IPS
In Liberia, as many as two out of three girls are affected and the topic itself has been neglected by politicians at the highest level for years.
Azango, who just won the International Press Freedom Award 2012, spoke with UN correspondent Rousbeh Legatis about how media can make a difference and the situation of the few female journalists in the country. Excerpts from the interview follow.
Looking back on your work, you said: “I knew if we started to talk about it (FGM), and they knew the truth, many parents would choose a different path” for their daughters. Did they?
No, parents haven’t chosen a different path for their daughters yet because they still feel it’s the clean and just thing to do. As an ancient tradition, it isn’t going to be changed overnight. We know that. As I’m talking to you, the practice is still going on in secret, even though the government has suspended the activities.
But what we have done is start a conversation at a national level that will allow this practice to be debated for the first time ever in our country. I’m very pleased about that.
More and more political leaders and victims have felt confident to come forward and say, “This practice is outdated. It is wrong.” Many parents will hear that debate for the first time and think twice about cutting their daughters.
It’s not the end but it’s the beginning of the end and many little girls will be spared. But in the long run it will take the sort of long-term, intensive awareness campaign that the government has promised to really stamp it out.
Why is FGM such a taboo subject and how difficult is it to cover as a journalist?
It’s a taboo subject in Liberia and Sierra Leone because it is a ritual practiced by traditional secret societies in those two countries. Girls as young as two spend months in the bush learning how to be wives and at the end there is a ceremony where they are cut. There is also a school for boys.
The people who run these schools make a lot of money from them and they want to protect that income.
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