Document Type


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Harvard Human Rights Journal



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bondo, female genital mutilation, Sierra Leone, women's rights, women's health


The African grassroots movement to eradicate female genital mutilation (also known as “female genital cutting” and “female circumcision,” hereinafter “FGM”) is widespread. While many African countries and grassroots organizations have made great strides in their efforts to eliminate FGM, Sierra Leone lags behind. In Sierra Leone, FGM is practiced within the bondo secret society, an ancient, all-female commune located in West Africa and also known as the sande. The bondo society’s traditional role was to direct girls’ rites of passage into adulthood. In order to become a member of the bondo, a girl or woman must undergo various rituals, the most significant being FGM. The fact that FGM takes place within secret societies in Sierra Leone makes eradication efforts more challenging. It is for this reason that Sierra Leone has been described as “ground zero” in the fight to eradicate FGM. This article culminates a project undertaken by the Walter Leitner International Human Rights Clinic (hereinafter “Leitner Clinic” or “Clinic”) at Fordham Law School to craft a blueprint for how grassroots organizations in Sierra Leone, and in similarly situated countries, can begin to tackle FGM at the grassroots and policy level in a manner that includes the voices of rural and less powerful citizens. This article argues that FGM eradication efforts, despite the challenging context, can be effective in Sierra Leone.