Sande membership appears to be most common in the north-western and north-central regions
Initiation is most likely to take place during adolescence
Type I (partial or full clitoridectomy) is the most common type of FGM practised
FGM is performed by a zoe, who runs the bush school adolescent girls attend and is a Sande society leader
4,722,887 (as at 9 May 2017), with a 2.44% growth rate (2016 est.)
53 deaths per 1,000 live births (2015)
725 deaths per 100,000 live births (2015)
47.6% of the total population aged 15 and over can read/write
FGM in Liberia is closely linked with a woman’s entry into the Sande secret society and in fact forms part of the initiation ritual. Because of the taboo nature of FGM, the prevalence of FGM outside of Sande has not been studied, and the DHS presents figures for women who have heard of and are members of Sande, noting that ‘Membership in the Sande society is a proxy for female genital cutting’. However, anecdotal evidence from contacts who have worked in Liberia shows that women who are not members of Sande are also cut.
The figures presented below and on the map have therefore been adjusted to represent the prevalence of Sande membership in all women aged 15-49, which is the only data available.
44.4% of all women aged 15-49 are members of Sande society and are therefore assumed to have undergone FGM. More women who live in rural areas are members of Sande (55.6%) than women who live in urban areas (37.1%), and membership is far more common in North Central (68.1%) and North Western (67.9%) regions than in other parts of the country. The lowest percentage of membership is in Maryland county (1.9%), in the far south-east, although this figure is based on a small number of women and should be treated with caution.
Membership of Sande and attitudes as to whether it and its practices should continue are inversely related to level of education and wealth, and vary more greatly in accordance with county of residence and religion.
The prevalence of Sande membership in women aged 15–49 is 44.4%. This is a decrease from the figure of 58.2% reported by the DHS in 2007. Reasons for this apparent large drop over a six-year period are unclear.
Due to the large age-range of women included, the overall prevalence alone may not fully reflect the progress that has been made in recent years. Breaking down the most recent data by age group shows that membership of Sande for women aged 45–49 is 66.1%, while for the youngest age group this has fallen to 26.4%. Despite the fact that a small proportion of women may be cut after the age of 15, the data suggests a trend towards lower prevalence among younger women.
See Liberia: The Law and FGM for more detail.