By Amadou Jadama
The Association of Al-Azhar Graduates in The Gambia has called on lawmakers to repeal the legislation banning female circumcision and decriminalise it, arguing that the practice is not regarded as a criminal act in Islam. Al-Azhar University in Egypt is regarded as the chief centre of Islamic and Arabic learning in the world.
The association is the latest to join the campaign to repeal the anti-FGM law.
The repeal-the-anti-FGM-law campaign gathered steam after Imam Abdoulie Fatty and a pro-female circumcision Muslim group paid the D35,000 fine for three women in Niani Bakadagi convicted of cutting young girls.
During a recent session, Sulayman Saho, the parliamentarian representing Baddibu Central, filed a private member bill at the National Assembly to repeal the law.
Now the president of the Association of Al-Azhar Graduates in The Gambia, Muhammad Drammeh, has shared a statement with The Standard indicating his association’s stance on the vexed debate.
It read: “This unfavorable public attitude against the banning and criminalisation of female circumcision could only imply that the law (both Section 32A and 32B of Women’s Act) does not reflect the moral consensus and the cultural and religious values of the majority of the people upon whom the law is meant to be applied.”
Drammeh stated that the practice was criminalised during the despotic rule of Yahya Jammeh that under the present democratic dispensation, “the pre-existing rules and laws that were enacted under the environment of despotism should be re-tabled for deliberations and discussions in the National Assembly for a subsequent amendment in order that such laws reflect the consensus of the people.”
He added that this has already happened in the cases of constitutional amendments that targeted the official name of The Gambia, the age limit for presidency, and the power of political parties to confine the political loyalties of elected members to their respective parties.
“In light of the ongoing public discussion on the issue of female circumcision, and as representatives of the people in the National Assembly have already considered a bold position to repeal the said anti-female circumcision law, the Association of Al-Azhar Graduates in The Gambia hereby calls on the executive and the National Assembly to urgently repeal both Section 32A and 32B of Women’s Act and to decriminalise the practice of female circumcision in The Gambia.
“This is because, despite the differences in the Islamic jurisprudence as to whether the female circumcision is obligatory or is a sunnah, or a dignity for women, the practice is never described as a criminal act in Islam, nor is it considered as such in any of the prevailing cultural traditions in The Gambia. Thus, its criminalisation in the country tends to reflect the Western understanding of female circumcision which distorted the practice as the demonstration of gender inequality and a violence against women as well as a societal control mechanism on the women’s body.”
He further posited that such negative framing contrasts the underpinning beliefs of the practicing society that view the practice either as a fulfillment of their religious duties or as a cherishment of cultural values noting that the scientific and moral justifications of criminalising the practice of female circumcision are insufficient and weak in the absence of objectively conducted researches on the implications of female circumcision in The Gambia, and in the presence of the long-lived experiences of the practicing communities that doubt and continue to question the validity of claims of medical implications associated to female circumcision.
“The references to the infringement of rights of children and women and to the principle of harm as moral justifications for criminalising female circumcision expose the weakness of the justification, given that there are male circumcision and cosmetic surgeries that solely target women’s body and ensure its objectification as sexual tool to infringe the rights of male children and inflict harm upon women respectively; nonetheless infringement of these principles hardly attract legal interventions relative to female circumcision,” he said.
Oustas Drammeh continued: “Maintaining female circumcision as a criminal act could lead to the clandestine act of performing the practice under unsafe and nonmedical procedures, as well as discouraging parents to bring their children to the hospitals in cases where complications occurred. As such actions compromise the lives of children, we recommend that a new legislation is considered that would allow symbolic cutting to be performed by licensed professional medical practitioners in health facilities.”