“What I know today, if I had known that before, I would never have circumcised any woman,” said Aja Babung Sidibeh, a former circumciser in the provincial town of Janjangbureh.
“We have caused lots of suffering to our women. That’s why I told you that what I know today, if my grandparents knew that, they would not have circumcised anyone. Ignorance was the problem.”
Mrs Sidibeh was the custodian of the deep-seated cultural practice in her native Janjangbureh town. She assumed the role after the death of her parents. But she has since “dropped her knife” and became an anti-FGM activist.
She confessed that there were times they used to ‘seal’ the girls for them not to lose their virginity and bring dishonour to the community. “We do that to run away from shame. The girls have to wait for their husbands. The day a young woman goes to her husband, we remove the seal. And that’s the day her husband should have her. That pain is too much. But we thought it was good.”
Mrs Fatou Camara-Touray, a public health nurse at Essau also gave weight to the former circumciser’s point having witnessed firsthand what she described as the harmful effects of the practice.
“I’ve seen women who have come to labour with very tight uterus. They were completely sealed. They have very small opening which a baby’s head can’t pass through. So we had to perform episiotomies (surgical incisions used to enlarge opening to help deliver a baby) on those women.”
According to her, researches have been done and all indicated that FGM exists in The Gambia and that in whatever form, it has health complications. In her 20 years as a nurse, she said she has seen worse cases requiring women to undergo episiotomies.
“Sometime in 2000, when I was at Essau Health Centre, I was called from my home at 9pm to report to the health centre and saw this child who was between life and death. She was 3 years old. I was told she was circumcised in the morning but because they thought her deteriorating condition had to do with some evil thing, they did not take her to the clinic until that time. And before we could do anything, the poor child died.”
The health practitioner rebuffed the notion that the cutting should be minimal. She said she was convinced that however little the cut is, the survivors would still be exposed to risks of sexual and reproductive health complications.
“Any cut you make, it’s going to leave a scar. So if that scar is there, when the woman comes into labour, the scar cannot stretch. Obviously, it will break. After delivery, women would come to us and say ‘my husband said I am too wide’. It’s the scar there that has been broken and we can’t repair that scar. And obviously, you will become extra wide. And your husband will feel that you are no longer as tight as before. So that’s also a problem women are facing in this country.”
Mrs Camara-Touray said even the Ministry of Health had since taken a more proactive role towards FGM by developing obstetric and FGM complication registers and training of nurses on FGM.
“Until recently, when you ask most health workers about the complications of FGM, they will say they’ve seen nothing. This was because they were not trained. Since 2011, we’ve changed our curriculum to include FGM. Also, the registers are in place at health centres and in three months, we’ve gone to a region and we are able to see that they’ve recorded 272 complications due to FGM.”
The Gambia’s Islamic scholars are divided on FGM with Imam Fatty belonging to the school that believes that female genital cutting is a religious injunction. In the April 2 edition of this paper, he declared that “there is no FGM in The Gambia” while accusing anti-FGM campaigners of spreading fallacies.
By Saikou Jammeh]]>