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22.10.2008 Health

FGM — THANKS, OKYENHENE, BUT...

By newtimesonline.com

The Okyenhene, Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori-Panin, has added his voice to the several voices rising up throughout the world  in condemnation of the inhuman, crude and obsolete practice of mutilating the genitals of infant girls in the name of tradition.

The Okyenhene's voice is no ordinary voice: it is a voice of significance.

The significance is in the fact that a traditional ruler has found the practice, which is being carried on in the name of tradition, abominable and called for its abolition.

It has been argued elsewhere that what is considered a tradition in one part of Ghana may not be so in another, and that extreme care should be exercised in attempting to outlaw these practices since they have their origins in events and taboos whose strict enforcement served the communities well in the past.

This argument may have made sense 70 years ago.

But we are in a 21st century where cruelty, even to an animal, is becoming an offence punishable by the courts of law. To test the argument of dissimilarities in traditions, however, the Times throws a challenge to all traditional rulers in communities where FGM is practiced to state their stand on the issue.

To leave nothing to chance, we urge the Ministry of Women and Children's Affairs (MOWAC) and the Ministry of Culture, in collaboration with civil society groups, to take the initiate to find out the truth in the assertion that FGM is traditional.

If it is found to prevail anywhere, there should be an immediate mechanism to resort to dialogue. The end of the dialogue is to get the go-ahead of the chiefs to make the practice a punishable offence.

In the meantime, we urge MOWAC and the Chieftaincy and Culture Ministry to put together a programme of getting traditional rulers and respectable opinion leaders in the various communities to come out forcefully and publicly against the practice.

Durbars and traditional festivals are a good platform for making such pronouncements.    

Because of the perception that these are cultural practices, the time has come for the Ministry of Culture to move away from a position where it keeps whining and complaining about the public's misconception of culture, and rather take a pro-active step to end such negative cultural practices.

When a Ministry of Culture does this, no-one will continue in the misconception that culture is negative, because there will be no, or very minimal, of negative and enslaving practices in the name of culture.

Indeed, if it is possible, we suggest that the forthcoming Cultural Awareness Month (the month of November) should be dedicated solely to preaching against such practices. The Honourable Professor who heads the Commission on Culture is noted for his unusual gift for raising funds to grow culture.

This is the time to ask him to get money from bilateral and multilateral donors to fund this campaign against negative cultural practices.

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