Secrets, Sexuality and Solutions in Sierra Leone: The Role FGM Plays in Shaping Lives in Modern West African Tribes

Secrets, Sexuality and Solutions in Sierra Leone: The Role FGM Plays in Shaping Lives in Modern West African Tribes


Nina Smart



This talk explores the human rights violation known as female genital mutilation (FGM) in the context of today's Sierra Leonean society. The role of women and men in protecting and perpetuating this harmful traditional practice is addressed in the complexity of this global issue, which is deeply experienced at the local level. Challenges faced by reformers and effective solutions to ameliorate this problem are presented to encourage participation in the process of ending FGM in Sierra Leone. The role of Ebola epidemics in reshaping locals' view about the FGM practice and international attention via INGOs conclude the talk.

Speaker Bio

Dr. Nina Smart is a human rights activist, sociologist, and author working to educate people about female genital mutilation (FGM) and to eradicate the practice in Sierra Leone.

In her memoir, Wild Flower, Dr. Smart shares the story of her coming of age in a West African culture. During this time her father arranged to have her abducted and inducted into Bondo, the secret society for women that is a proud and ancient tradition in Sierra Leone. The initiation rite for the Bondo is FGM – Female Genital Mutilation.

In 2004, Dr. Smart founded Servicing Wild Flowers –SWF International, a Los Angeles based non-profit NGO that raises awareness about FGM through lectures and presentations for students and socially conscious groups. In 2012, Dr. Smart received her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California, Irvine. Her dissertation, “Resisting Polity Transmission from the Global to the Local - The Silence on the Glocalization of FGM in the Parliament of Sierra Leone,” provided a platform for her to attend parliamentary hearings and talk with diplomats in Sierra Leone about the practice of Secret Societies and FGM. Dr. Smart regularly speaks, gives media interviews and facilitates workshops on the topic of FGM.

Dr. Smart’s passion for human rights, her academic expertise and unique biography, places her neither within nor outside of Sierra Leonean culture, allowing her to make important inroads in Sierra Leone. She has worked directly in rural areas of Sierra Leone, together with SWF partners, who facilitate community meetings in the area. In a culture where just bringing up the subject of FGM is a very dangerous action, Dr. Smart has been able to work with community members (men and women) and religious leaders (Muslim and Christian) to address the importance of discussing the issue of FGM.

Not only has Dr. Smart worked to advocate for a path forward where women don’t experience FGM, she has worked through her nonprofit, SWF, to create safe spaces for women and children. SWF supports a school in Freetown Sierra Leone where all students are protected from initiation into Secret Societies and are taught values that respect basic human rights. SWF also partners with AIM (Amazonian Initiative Movement) to support the only safe house that offers protection for girls who run away from their families because they refuse to undergo FGM. The safe house provides women both protection and teaches tradecrafts so these women can financially support themselves without a husband.

Dr. Smart straddles many cultures—Romanian, American, West African, academia and activism. She has built bridges between these worlds and through her tireless efforts is educating people, unveiling the systemic causes of FGM in Sierra Leone, and creating a safer space for women in the communities she works and lives in.

Date of Lecture


Event Co-Sponsors

MSU, Mankato Sociology and Corrections Department, MSU Honors Program, MSU Ethnic Studies Department, MSU Department of Anthropology, MSU American Indigenous Studies


female genital mutilation, Sierra Leone, women, culture, society


African Studies | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Women's Studies

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Secrets, Sexuality and Solutions in Sierra Leone: The Role FGM Plays in Shaping Lives in Modern West African Tribes