by Veronika Michels
Managing Editor

It is 6 o’clock in the evening on the 14th of June in Cape Town. The sun begins to descend over the South Atlantic Ocean and an evening fog spills off the edges of Table Mountain like smoke over a cauldron’s brim. Most of the city’s inhabitants are huddled around a television somewhere anticipating the first whistle which will kick off the 21st FIFA World Cup in Moscow. Excitement is ample as only eight years before, this moment belonged to South Africa. Meanwhile, in the parking lot of a small school soccer turf, the doors of a white suburban SUV fling open and eight young boys scramble out, barely managing to shut the doors as they race to the field with loosely tied cleats. The coach, Sbusiso Cebekhulu–Sibu for short–follows with a mesh bag of soccer balls hanging over his shoulder. This is his team– at least for the week.

Sbusiso has just made the nearly one hour drive from one of the city’s largest townships –Khayelitsha– where twice a week he picks up some of the local kids to coach them in his favorite sport. He has been playing soccer since childhood and hopes to extend this passion to as many young South Africans as he can. “I have just over 200 boys,” he laughs watching the eight boys do their warm ups. “I don’t train them all at the same time. Under 10s and under 13s. Whoever fits in the car.”

24 years after the end of apartheid, Cape Town, as with most South African cities, is still plagued with racialized social and economic inequalities. The greatest visible evidence of remaining injustices lies in the bird’s eye view of the city. In Cape Town, the wealthy and the poor often live only minutes apart. Townships were originally formed as means of systematic racial segregation. Around Johannesburg, early townships first “housed” men from the villages looking for work in the mines, and in Cape Town they served as controlled living spaces for a cheap and controlled labor supply to white settlers in the city. Tribe separations defined in the colonial era, factored in with tensions of poverty and lack of community development, have set the circumstances for continued problems associated with life in townships today.

Vivid contrasts of inequality in Masiphumelele, Cape Town.

Sibu’s concern lies in the future of the children growing up bearing the burdens of this colonial legacy. “People move from the villages to the townships to move closer to the city, but in townships there is crowding, people living in squatter settlements. The conditions are unhealthy. There is no space. They cannot perform cultural rituals that define Africans. The kids fall apart. No dancing or singing that used to be entertainment for our grandparents. Their parents are not hands on. They can’t be. They have to go to work, even the commute takes so much time. There is a lack of quality time.”

According to Sbusiso, parental guidance and general mentorship is largely lacking in these circumstances.  He explains, “90% of parents in the townships work in the city which is 30 km from the townships. Bad traffic congestion and public transport makes the workday longer. If work starts at 8 a.m., you have to leave the house at 5:30 a.m. You arrive, you work until 5 p.m. Those are normal hours. From 5 o’clock there is lots of traffic. You have to get into queues for the bus. You arrive home at 7:30 p.m. Your child goes to school and they go and come back without your presence. Who monitors that child? What about homework, what about safety? My point I want to raise is that parents in townships are irresponsible. But it is not their choice. The system forces them into it. They have to commit to work and sacrifice parental guidance. The kids basically raise themselves. They smoke, they start practicing how to rob people. Young girls get raped and become pregnant.”

It is well established that children growing up in poverty are at much higher risk for mental health issues. In Cape Town, this is largely a racialized problem. A recent study determined that “black children appeared the most disadvantaged across almost all poverty indicators,” including measures of access to basic amenities, educational advancement, and parental presence and employment status. Importantly, the hope for improvement on existing inequalities is threatened by mechanisms harmful to adolescent development such as exposure to violence, food insecurity, and substance abuse, as well as lack of employment opportunities.

Sibusiso, with three children of his own, hopes to work against this problem through sport. “I used to dream of being a professional soccer player. That didn’t happen, but I’ve learned that sport can teach you a lot about life and discipline. Working with your team builds you morally and teaches you responsibility. So, I came up with this academy. I was inspired by the fact that there were people before me, that took me from the streets in the townships. They trained me and helped me find my talent and skill for soccer. They never got anything for it. Now, I am trying to build an academy to make a difference in underserved communities, by educating the boys and introducing them to sport the right way. My other biggest worry is that if we don’t look after these boys, the 10-year-olds, the 13-year-olds, they might turn to gangsterism. They might be the ones robbing you in five years. They are vulnerable, they are all over the streets. But, within them you can see soccer as something they love, something that unites them. Importantly, I can teach them important values through sport, it’s possible.

Anti-apartheid protests in South Africa in the early 1990s.

The history of South Africa is inextricably tied to many problems the country faces today. As legacies of creeping imperialism morph into modern unprecedented levels of globalization, unique challenges of both eras harrow societies around the world. However, the immense direct value of local action and impact must not be forgotten. Sbusiso reflects on his positionality in this project: “Apartheid and racism took place for more that 100 years. We are only 24 years into democracy. We can’t just compare the two eras and say democracy is not right. We need to give ourselves a chance. There is change within 24 years that we can be proud of. I saw a problem. That’s why I have a soccer academy. I’m doing something about it so that in 10 or 15 years time my academy will be helping thousands of boys. I hope this can be an example for others.”

Coach Sbusiso and some of the members of his team: Ayakha, Luyanda, Thabiso, Siboniso, Siseko, Sabulele, Ncubeko, Sbusiso Junior (top to bottom, left to right).

In the foreground of the iconic profile of the mountain referred to as “Lion’s Head,” Sibu blows the whistle to mark the end of the scrimmage. The boys, sweat-drenched and panting, still have enough energy to debate their favorite teams in the 2018 World Cup.  Underlying the dedication to this group lies a philosophy to which only contextualized translation can seek to do justice. Sibu reveals “There is a quote from Desmond Tutu, a political leader that helped South Africa go through the democratic era. He says: ‘Ubuntu, Ubuntu, nabatu.’ A person is a person through other people. Working together as a society, we can achieve something. That is the spirit you find in the townships. Ubuntu is humanity. I don’t expect any money from this soccer project; I am just trying to give back and help expand this project… get materials for the boys. It’s all part of this philosophy. We must love one another for us to understand one another.” Even the simplest acts, like planning soccer drills and seeking out a practice space for the group, are the kinds of impactful local actions that feed the greater movement towards establishing equality in South Africa. After all, the playing field cannot be leveled if there is no field to play on.

Sbusiso and more players in the academy.

Photos by:

Veronika Michels

Johnny Miller

Kandukuru Nagarjun

Sbusiso Cebekhulu


by Ami Bhakta
Contributing Writer

Executive Summary

Female genital cutting (FGC) is a pressing issue in Sierra Leone that not only can cause an abundance of health problems in young girls, but is also correlated with dropping out of school and child marriage. It is a serious prohibitor of girls’ potential and impedes on a girl’s ability to control her own body. To combat this problem, conversations need to be started in Parliament about partnering with INGOs to develop educational services regarding the harmfulness and unnecessariness of FGC. These educational services will benefit Sierra Leone as a whole by also promoting democracy and community developing by incorporating community conversation through a nonjudgmental rights-based approach.

Statement of Issue

Progression towards gender equality includes attempting to change legal frameworks and the discrimination that stems from patriarchal attitudes and prevailing gender norms. This includes attempts to alter laws and societal mindsets towards female genital cutting, which will hereby be referred to as FGC. FGC is practice inflicted mainly upon young girls before marriage (typically the only economically viable life choice for women) in order to ensure their purity and to control their sexuality. FGC holds the risk of an abundance of mental and physical problems, including increased risk of HIV, bladder infection, blood loss, menstrual complications, childbirth complications, death, etc. (28 Too Many, 2018). The specific problem being addressed is the lack of policies regarding educational services about the implications of FGC, and thereby the lack of access community leaders, parents, and FGC executors have to these services.

Implementation of educational services teaching on the detriments of FGC are crucial to changing the social convention that revolves around the practice. Today, around 200 million girls in the world have been affected by the practice that defines the legitimacy of a woman and causes unnecessary health problems (28 Too Many, 2018). In Sierra Leone, an African state with one of the highest percentages of FGC practice, it has a prevalence of 89.6%, and the state currently has no laws in place banning FGC; while it was shortly banned in 2014 during the Ebola Crisis, the ban has since been lifted, and there appears to be no sign of discontinuation (28 Too Many, 2018). Eradicating FGC is also important because there is a strong correlation between undergoing FGC and child marriage in some ethnic groups in Sierra Leone, and many drop out of school after being cut (28 Too Many, 2018). If communities in Sierra Leone can slowly begin to condemn FGC, there might be a larger number of girls staying in school and getting married later, which is clear progress on the pathway towards UN Sustainable Development Goal #5 of gender equality. Furthermore, FGC of girls in Sierra Leone is extremely prevalent in households with uneducated mothers (95%), as compared to in households with mothers who have at least secondary education (74.2%) (Bjälkander et al., 2012). If these educational services can get the ball rolling and have girls stay in school for longer, these educated future mothers will work in conjunction with any anti-FGC initiatives or laws in place by the time.

Following the statement of the issue, this policy brief will dive into the origins of FGC and how it plays out in Sierra Leone society today. The lack of policy regarding FGC in general, nevertheless regarding anti-FGC educational programs, certainly warrants critiques. Many anti-FGC initiatives have been implemented in various sub-Saharan African countries, such as alternative rites of passage and alternative employment for FGC executors, but the best approach to take for a long-term cessation of FGC is the approach that advocates for community conversation and dialogue.

Origin of the Problem and the Current Context

Originating in Africa, FGC is currently condoned in 28 countries (Bjälkander et al., 2012). While it is not certain when the practice originated, in the past few decades it has come to be recognized as a human rights violation.  In Sierra Leone, 70.1% of women aged 15-19 have undergone FGC compared to 96.4% of women aged 45-49, implying some change through the generations, but this shift is still not as fast as it ideally should be, and many more young girls are still at risk (Bjälkander et al., 2012). Though it is important to know that FGC has no health benefits, the origins of its purpose lie within the misogynistic ideas that a girl is only marriageable and a real woman if she has undergone FGC. The International Center for Research on Women claims that cultural consensus agrees that FGC maintains family dignity and respect, is ingrained in communal and ethnic identity, and improves female hygiene (ICRW, 2018). Aside from this, FGC still has practical implications for Sierra Leonean women today; in order to be marriageable, a woman must be cut, and marriage is often times the only way a woman can financially support herself and her family. As gender roles are an integral part to the various cultures of ethnicities in Sierra Leone, women are expected to remain pure, faithful, and modest—FGC is viewed as a prerequisite for all three (International Center for Research on Women, 2018).

The largest group of FGC excisors in Sierra Leone is known as the Bondo Society, a secret society comprised of all cut women (Bjälkander et al., 2012). The Bondo Society is prevalent in all ethnic communities of Sierra Leone, with 90% of women in the country belonging to the Bondo Society (28 Too Many, 2018). For them, FGC is not viewed as a human rights violation, but rather as entry into a society of women who have elevated community status and power.  In the current context, community elders decide when FGC will take place, and then notify the families of all the girls of age; the traditional excisor of FGC, also known as a Sowei in Sierra Leone, visits the families of young girls and informs them of the process of the ritual—FGC is very much a community-based decision (Bjälkander et al., 2012). Women are especially involved in the FGC decision making process for a young girl in the family (and therefore should be key targets of any anti-FGC reform, along with community elders and parents of boys). They are the largest stakeholders in the practice of FGC, as if they are not cut, they are subject to alienation and terms equivalent to “foolish”, “stupid”, “childish”, or “impure”, and if they are cut, it provides them with a sense of community and agency (28 Too Many, 2018).  These conditions make it difficult to unweave the precedent FGC has set in the fabric of Sierra Leonean society.

Some earlier campaigns to combat FGC have actually been counterproductive, and have resulted in the medicalization of FGC, which is potent in Sierra Leone today. Anti-FGC initiatives to paint FGC as an inhumane process that leads to severe health problems have resulted in licensed doctors performing FGC in order to satiate parents’ fears of health problems (Bjälkander et al., 2012). Fighting FGC by solely portraying it as a health violation only led to the addition of another acceptable excisor. This has actually further legitimized the practice and depicts in a healthy light because it is being executed by a doctor, even though the same health risks are still present. Because FGC is so culturally accepted and significant, doctors will usually have no problem performing the act. The current context of FGC in Sierra Leone is that it is still widely practiced and encouraged today, regardless of any prior initiatives to eradicate the process.

Critique of Policy Options

It is hard to critique policy options, because currently there is no passed legislation regarding FGC in Sierra Leone today (28 Too Many, 2018). Therefore, this section will target previous attempts to eliminate FGC that have failed and must be avoided. Though Sierra Leone’s constitution addresses the concept of basic human rights, neither the constitution nor parliamentary meetings address “women’s access to resources, education, reproductive health, political representation and perceptions of women in public and private spaces, or basic human rights” (Smart, 2012). There is a great gender disparity regarding conversations about men and women, and parliamentary silence on issues that affect women essentially imply their views on practices ingrained in Sierra Leonean culture, including FGC.  Parliament’s failure to tackle the practice helps to sustain its legitimacy in Sierra Leone. In fact, there is even more incentive for Parliamentary members to avoid condemning FGC because it is viewed as a “vote-winner” because it so popular among ethnic enclaves and women in Sierra Leone (Women’s Health Law Weekly, 2005). The only female presidential candidate in 2002 garnered less than 1% of voters, and blames her poor turnout on her anti-FGC stance. Though Sierra Leone signed the Convention for Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in 1988, no legislation has been passed criminalizing FGC because it is not viewed as a threatening women’s rights violation (Women’s Health Law Weekly, 2005).

In Sierra Leone, the Amazonian Initiative Movement has convinced some midwives and other FGC excisors to stop performing the practice by giving them another type of employment (Women’s Health Law Weekly, 2005). However, Sierra Leone’s relationship with FGC is unique because close to all FGC excisors are Soweis from the secret Bondo Society, whose livelihood largely depends on transforming girls to women, which FGC is a big component of. Convincing them to drop the practice will be hard, and if any progress is made, it may be ephemeral, or just make FGC go underground. FGC is so central to the mission of the Bondo that when an organization called Conscious Family launched an anti-FGC campaign, the organization’s leader had to go into hiding due to death threats from the Bondo (28 Too Many, 2018). Even for just speaking out against the practice of FGC, young girls can be forcefully cut by the Bondo because the Sowei wants to initiate girls before they are “‘taken up’ by the human rights discourse” (Bosire, 2012). Converting excisors in Sierra Leone is especially difficult, as compared to other countries like Mali or Somalia where excisors are stigmatized or from a lower class, because excisors in Sierra Leone are revered and “powerful ritual specialists” (Johansen et al., 2013). Given the place of excisors in Sierra Leonean life, converting their employment is not a reliable way to eradicate FGC. Both the Amazonian Initiative Movement and the Inter-African Committee have launched campaigns to give FGC excisors other employment or worked in conjunction with local police forces and schools to convert FGC excisors to farmers (28 Too Many, 2018). Although this approach may have some impact on how many FGC excisors are still employed in the field, this approach does not change the social convention or mindset regarding FGC, and it will still continue to be an in-demand process here for the long-term. According to UNICEF, this approach can work well with complementary approaches, but alone, this was and is not enough to put an end to FGC (28 Too Many, 2018).

Policy Recommendations

As observed, solely focusing on changing the discourse in Parliament, or attempting to provide alternative forms of employment for FGC excisors, fails to spark permanent change against the practice of FGC. The best policy recommendation at this point would be to facilitate community dialogue and to employ a human rights-based approach through mandatory educational services that local communities have easy access to. Assessing the problem of FGC will be best done not by purely passing laws or offering jobs to FGC executors, but by addressing and changing the societal and communal mindsets revolving around the practice to ensure a permanent shift in attitudes toward FGC.  Sustaining community conversation and dialogue will not only eventually lead to a consensus among locals that FGC is an unnecessary practice but is also a more fulfilling approach than just targeting a certain group in Sierra Leone in hopes of eradicating the process. Educational services that host these conversations will help local parents, leaders, youth, and medical personnel change their collective societal mindset on the harmful practice of FGC.

Great examples of community wide campaigns (that take into consideration the cultural value of FGC, unlike the two previous approaches mentioned) are Tostan International’s FGC education model in Senegal and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood’s work in Egypt. In Egypt, by incorporating children, parents, leaders, medical practitioners, journalists, and judges into social media and educational campaigns, the NCCM was able to issue a law which made FGC illegal in the country in 2008 (ICRW, 2018). In Egypt in 2016, FGC moved from being a misdemeanor to a felony. Encouraging dialogue amongst the community and within families is the best way to eradicate the social convention around FGC. For example, one specific employment of this appears in Senegal through the Grandmother Project, which used grandmothers’ revered status within the family hierarchy to foster conversation about community values and traditions (ICRW, 2018).  Besides promoting development and democracy, these courses should also remember to maintain using the rights-based approach mentioned earlier. Success of these educational initiatives can be measured based on how many communities deliver a public declaration to abandon FGC, which is a good indicator that the social convention around the practice has changed.


Overall, there is not one direct way to tackle FGC in all countries it is practiced in. Solutions that only cater to one part of the problem are futile; change cannot occur just from trying to persuade members of Sierra Leonean Parliament, or by finding a new job for an FGC excisor. The decision to change must be arrived at by the community. This process takes effort and time, and it takes a culturally sensitive and holistic method that encompasses all members of the community. Educational services are a good idea to implement and be made accessible in Sierra Leone. Referring to them as community development programs instead of anti-FGC initiatives will ensure that the Bondo Society and communities in general do not react harshly to the courses. It is of the utmost importance to start the conversation in Sierra Leonean Parliament about working and partnering with INGOs to set up these educational services in as many communities as possible. Stopping FGC will result in girls going to school for longer and decrease the likelihood of child marriage, a strong step in the path toward gender equality and sustainable development.

Works Cited

Bjälkander, Owolabi, Bailah Leigh, Grace Harman, Staffan Bergström, and Lars Almroth. 2012.

“Female Genital Mutilation in Sierra Leone: Who are the Decision Makers?” African Journal of Reproductive Health 16 (4): 119-31.

Bosire, Tom Obara. “The Bondo secret society: female circumcision and the Sierra Leonean state.” PhD diss., University of Glasgow, 2012.

“Country Profile: FGM in Sierra Leone.” 28 Too Many. Accessed February 19, 2018.

Female Genital Mutilation; Politicians in Sierra Leone use Support for Female Circumcision to Win Votes.” 2005.Women’s Health Law Weekly, Apr 10, 39.

Johansen, R. Elise B., Nafissatou J. Diop, Glenn Laverack, and Els Leye. “What Works and What Does Not: A Discussion of Popular Approaches for the Abandonment of Female Genital Mutilation.” Obstetrics and Gynecology International 2013 (2013): 1-10. doi:10.1155/2013/348248

LEVERAGING EDUCATION TO END FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION/CUTTING WORLDWIDE.” Accessed February 19, 2018. International Center for Research on Women.

Lionello, Anna M. 2015. “Female Genital Mutilation in Sierra Leone: A Phenomenological Study of the Experience of Abandonment.” Order No. 3700987, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

Smart, Nina. “Resisting World Polity Transmission: The Silence on the Globalization of anti-FGM legislation in the Parliament of Sierra Leone.” PhD diss., University of California, Irvine , 2012.

“The Community Empowerment Program .” Tostan International . Accessed February 20, 2018.

“What is FGM?” 28Toomany. Accessed February 19, 2018.


Image by bobthemagicdragon



by Eden Allegretti
Staff Writer

Throughout my whole life, I have grown to realize what America symbolizes not only to our citizens, but to the world: a country based on freedom, equality, endless opportunities and hope. It is with these principles in mind that so many Americans and their representatives have fought to legalize gay marriage, provide affordable healthcare to all, shelter refugees, reduce pay inequality and much more.