NN’s Proudest Moment: Reporting Prompts Leaders to Herald End of Female Genital Cutting

NN Reporters Tetee Gebro and Mae Azango faced death threats for their reporting on female genital cutting in Liberia

In a powerful example of the impact support for African media can have, NN’s reporting has prompted Liberian leaders to announce the end of one of the most harmful practices endured by women in Africa.

Reporting by NN’s Mae Azango and Tetee Gebro has prompted the Liberian government and traditional leaders to announce they had shut down the traditional societies that practice female genital cutting (FGC) as an initiation. FGC is practiced by 10 of Liberia’s 16 tribes and leaves tens of thousands of Liberian girls as young two maimed for life. It is a significant factor in Liberia’s high rate of maternal mortality where one in 10 births end in the death of the mother, one of the highest rates in the world.

A cover story in FrontPage Africa newspaper by NN’s Mae Azango on the health risks of FGC brought death threats against Mae and the paper and forced her into hiding. One of the key tenets of the traditional societies is that anyone who discusses what goes on outside the initiations must be punished with death. Traditional women came looking for Mae’s 9-year-old daughter threatening that if they could not get to Mae, they would circumcise her child.

Despite the threats to Mae, NN reporter Tetee Gebro bravely aired a story on the subject on her radio station Sky FM. Said Tecee: “I know the risks but I think we are doing the right thing. We need to talk about this issue in this country.” Appearing via Skype at a later panel discussion at the City University of New York Tetee told of how one of her best friends had suffered life-long problems because of FGC but she was too afraid to talk with anyone about it.

An international outcry from Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Columbia University’s School of Journalism (alma mater of the New Narratives’ team) and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof pressured Liberia’s leaders to announce they had shut down the secret societies that practice FGC. So powerful are Liberia’s traditional societies that no political leader had dared speak against them before. This statement marked the first time Liberian leaders had ever criticized female genital cutting in public.

Mae, Tetee and New Narratives partners have vowed to follow up on the government’s actions and its promise to launch an economic empowerment campaign for the women whose livelihoods depend on the traditional societies. NN will continue to support them in that work.