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Sunday, October 1, 2023

After 10 years in US, Gambian returns home to stop FGM


Jaha Dukureh, who left The Gambia for the US a decade ago and spearheaded a Guardian-backed American campaign against FGM earlier this year, will use a series of workshops in the capital Banjul to enthuse groups of young Gambians to then return to fight the practice in their own communities.

“Taking this campaign to The Gambia means a lot to me because that’s where I come from originally,” said Dukureh. “It gives me a way to be directly involved.”

Young Gambians between the ages of 15-25 – an age group which forms 60% of the country’s population – will come together to learn social media and campaigning skills, equip themselves with facts and form the first youth-led anti FGM movement in the country.

In The Gambia, a nation of 1.8m people, nearly 80% of girls are still subjected to FGM – a practice which involves removing the clitoris and sometimes labia of girls, some as young as just a few months old. Dukureh went through the most severe form of FGM where the clitoris and labia are removed before the vagina is sewn up leaving just a small hole.

In a high-profile campaign that is likely to spark debate across The Gambia, Dukureh, whose US campaign has already been covered in the Gambian media, will also be doing a media blitz of interviews to get the campaign’s message out.

Over two days young people will gather at the “The Generation That Will End FGM” event – co-funded by The Guardian and Equality Now – in Banjul for series of workshops that will cover everything from the health impacts of FGM – which can cause bleeding, infections, infertility and death during childbirth – to how to start a social media campaign.

“The focus on youth is because they are the future parents and they have a better chance at ending FGM in a generation,” said Dukureh. “We want them to know that the strongest tool they have is their own voices. We want them to come out of the conference believing they can actually change FGM within a generation.”

FGM is not illegal in The Gambia and campaigners are encouraging the government to outlaw the practice which can leave girls with lifelong mental and physical complications.

The Gambian youth movement is part of a Guardian-led Global Multimedia Campaign To End FGM, which kicked off in February this year, when 17-year-old Bristol school girl, Fahma Mohammed, started a petition with the campaign platform Change.org urging the government to write to all schools about FGM. Publicly backed by the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, the campaign was successful 21 days later after gaining nearly 250,000 signatories.

The campaign inspired Dukareh in the US to start a similar petition – again on Change.org – calling for a new prevalence study into FGM. Ban formally launched the campaign in the US and its key demand was met at the London Girl Summit in July this year. Dukureh has since met government officials in Washington to advise what steps can now be taken and will take the campaign to the next level, by returning to her home country.

Jaha Dukureh’s campaign in The Gambia will complement the sterling efforts of locally based groups like Gamcotrap.


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