Friday, June 5, 2015

Mae Azango

Mae Azango has been a journalist for 12 years but it’s the articles she has been writing since 2010 about female genital mutilation in rural areas of Liberia that have made her known to the general public.

In traditional areas of Central West Africa, the Sande secret society’s “bush schools” prepare girls for marriage and to be mothers, with graduation consisting of a genital mutilation ceremony. Azango had to go into hiding for a month after writing an article that described the appalling violence of one of these ceremonies. “I wanted to draw the public’s attention to the public health dangers of such practices,” she said.

But that is not how the Sande’s guardians saw it. She began getting lots of threats. “We are going to cut you,” anonymous callers told her. Far from being intimidated, she wrote another article about this secret society, this time about its political and economic importance in rural areas. In 2013, her reporting led President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to condemn FGM, a hitherto taboo subject.

Azango does not just write about women’s rights. In a country where newspapers seem interested only in politics and business stories, she tries to cover the lives of ordinary people. “I write about human rights, seizures of land from small farmers, development issues, human trafficking and police impunity... I write for those who have no voice, for the poor, for those cannot speak out, for those who get the government’s attention only during elections and are then abandoned. I write to create a public debate, so that change can take place.”

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