Liberian journalist Mae Azango’s courageous reporting on female genital mutilation in her country helped to ignite an international controversy.
But she had to go into hiding following threats and is now on a visit to the United States.
Her 8 March article, “Growing pains: Sande tradition of genital cutting threatens health of Liberian women”, prompted an immediate backlash.
Though it forced Liberian officials to declare that the traditional ritual of female genital mutilation should be stopped, police failed to help Azango when she began receiving threats of violence.
“I was doing hot stories on them so they were not happy with me,” Azango said during an interview at the New York offices of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) last week.
Many Liberians evidently thought she “should have known better” than to report on such a controversial topic.
Asked why she did so, Azango said: “A lot of people don’t have a voice. If I don’t write about it, how will people know about it?”
She was enraged by the fact that children as young as three are subject to what is wrongly called female circumcision.
As many as two out of every three Liberian girls in 10 of Liberia’s 16 tribes are reported to be subject to the practice.
Along with threats of violence from the Sande, the Liberian community which carries put the procedure, even Azango’s own tenant threatened her.
Faced by apathy from the police, Azango fled into hiding with her nine-year-old daughter as international organisations – such as CPJ, Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders – protested to the Liberian government.
It resulted in the information ministry releasing a statement saying it would guarantee Azango’s safety. But she believes these were superficial gestures.
“On the ground, Mae Azango is her own security,” she says. “My name is already there before I get somewhere.”
It means, she says, that she must be doing something right and that her stories are having an impact.
Azango intends to return to Liberia to continue her work. Before she left the country she says she told information minister Louis Brown: “Mr Minister, I’m going to America but I’m coming back. That gives you two weeks to clean up your backyard.”
[Liberian journalists Tetee Gabro and Mae Azango (right) via tlupic / Flickr]