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Liberian Journalist Uses Her Voice to Save Women from FGM and Sex Trafficking

When Mae Azango was just 18 years old, civil war broke out in her homeland Liberia and rebels killed her father. Azango and many other Liberians fled the country and took refuge on the Ivory Coast.

Upon returning to Liberia in 2002, Azango witnessed and experienced countless injustices, and was surrounded by vulnerable people like herself who lacked a voice. That’s when she decided to be these people’s voice, and soon after this decision, she got involved in journalism.

It has been fifteen years since Azango began pursuing investigative journalism, and in that time she has exposed numerous cases of corruption and human rights violations in Liberia.

“When I am angry, I don’t fight,” says Azango. “I put it on paper.”

Azango is a journalist at FrontPage Africa, an investigative news website for Liberians and members of the Liberian diaspora. Unlike many countries where journalists are celebrated and respected for the news they cover, Azango is a reporter in a country where she earns little renown and income for her work. More importantly, she faces great risks because of her work exposing the injustices that occur daily in her country.

Some of the articles Azango has written, which expose practices of female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C) and sex trafficking scandals in Liberia, were so negatively received at one point that the journalist and her nine-year-old daughter were forced to go into hiding for three weeks due to the amount of death threats they were receiving. However, nothing has stopped her from pursuing her passion and justice.

“I never regret it,” says Azango on her reporting. “If I had to do it a second time, I would do it even more than I did the first time.”

She refused to let this backlash silence her and continued to report on the suspect. From 2010 to 2012, Azango published a series on FGM/C in Liberia, which is now considered to be her most influential body of work.

In many Liberian tribes, FGM/C is a “sacred ritual” which involves cutting off part of a girl’s clitoris. The practice is an unspeakable subject in the country, but the action is still an “unspoken rule” that all women must endure. The circumcision can be done at birth, but it more often happens in adulthood. The fully developed clitoris, the only part of the body designed exclusively for pleasure, is full of nerve endings and very sensitive tissue. Most of the time, the procedure is done without anesthesia, and is done with an unsterilized blade or knife that is used on multiple patients. There is an extremely high risk of infection or death.

After Azango’s articles on FGM/C were published, the once unspeakable subject suddenly became a topic of discussion on the radio and international news. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, as well as the Ministry of Gender and Development, were forced to get involved, and the practice was formally banned for the first time in Liberian history.

In a separate series, Azango also reported on the business of child sex trafficking, which spurred protests in Liberia that resulted in the government rescuing more than a dozen girls from the industry.

“There is a power in the pen,” says Azango. “If I can use this pen, I can shape the future of my country.”

Featured Image by UNMEER on  Flickr
Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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