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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Back to the bad old days

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With Aisha Jallow

Normally I start writing my essays the weekend before they are going to be published, but this time I haven’t been able to do that. I have been so filled with disgust, anger and frustration that I haven’t been able to gather my thoughts. Many times I have written about Yahya Jammeh and complained about the aweful things he did while president of The Gambia, but there is one thing that was good and that was banning FGM.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read on the news that there is a bill to lift the ban on FGM. Seriously, folks, what is wrong with you? The Gambia has had this ban since 2015, and even if some grandmas took their grandbabies to the bush, or to Senegal, for the abuse, it still saved the lives and the health of thousands of girls.
According to Al Jazeera, The Gambia has taken steps towards lifting a ban on female circumcision, a move that could make it the first country in the world to reverse legal protections against the practice for millions of women and girls. It is a man who introduced the bill, the legislator Almameh Gibba. He argued that the ban violated the rights of citizens to “practise their culture and religion” in The Gambia. ”The bill seeks to uphold religious loyalty and safeguard cultural norms and values,” he said. Religious loyalty, is that even a thing? This is so typical of Gambians to refer to religion and suddenly no one is supposed to counter them or the person will be considered a heathen.
So what is FGM and why it is still performed? Female genital mutilation (sometimes abbreviated as FGM refers to all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for cultural or other non-medical reasons. Female genitalia, two fancy words that might not mean anything to you, but by ”translating” these words to understandable English it might be easier to understand. The private parts of a girl-child are cut away, without anaesthetics, without proper tools and without proper sanitation. These parts are cut with whatever the performing women have: a razor blade, a knife and even a sharp stone.
For those of you men who ever had been hit with a football on your nuts, or if you have been kicked there; you know the pain, don’t you? You lose control of your body, you cry and scream because of the pain. You bend over and try to protect your hurt little buddy and you can’t do anything until the pain subsides.
When you read this, I am sure you almost feel the pain and you remember how it felt. Most of you, guys, were circumcised when you were babies. This is a matter of a very small piece of skin, and the procedure is quick. It is performed while you are too young to create any memories.
Male circumcision is cultural but it is also hygienic. It is easier for you to keep your manhood clean, and with that cleanliness you don’t also spread bacteria to infect your future partner. A win-win situation, so to say. So let us now talk about the girls and their pain, because their private parts are just as sensitive as yours. Female circumcision has nothing to do with hygiene, it is only cultural. It is a matter of controlling the sexuality of girls in a cruel and brutal way. It can kill them. If they don’t die of infection from the tools used to cut, they may bleed to death after the cutting.
FGM is not performed on small babies, it is performed on girls old enough to remember the fear, the pain and the humiliation they have to suffer. Early on, small girls are taught to protect their decency. They are not supposed to expose themselves, to touch their private parts or even speak about these parts. Suddenly they are taken from their homes and taken somewhere; they do not recognise the surroundings or the people they meet there. The air is filled with tension, but the girls don’t understand what is going to happen to them. When the day comes for the procedure, the girls meet their nightmare while they are still awake.
The girls are taken, one by one, held down to the ground by several strong women. The girls are stripped naked from the waist down. Their legs are spread and suddenly a woman is there, between their legs, and she is touching their private parts. Imagine the horror, it can’t be hard to understand how humiliating this must feel for the girls! They have been taught to protect their decency, and suddenly someone is touching the parts they are not even supposed to touch themselves. The girl is kicking, screaming, begging the women to let her go and to stop touching her, but they will hold her even harder.
The woman, responsible for the cut, is not a trained nurse. She is only a common woman, with common knowledge of the female genitalia. She doesn’t know if she will remove too much, or what kind of damage she is causing the girl. It is not easy to cut someone who is fighting for her life, so the cutting is challenging. When the cutting is done, the woman will sew the girl’s private parts together. Still no anaesthetics, still no sanitary surrounding or proper equipment. A needle and a piece of string is used and a small twig is placed in the hole that is left.
The hole is for the pee and the menstruation blood to come out. The hole will never be large enough for a baby’s head to break through the day the girl will become a mother. The skin will never more be flexible, the scars caused by the cut will make the labour pain even worse. The woman must be cut open again to be able to give birth to her baby. Do you feel that you will faint yet? Well, sorry for that if that is the case, but I haven’t finished. Let us go back to the girl who has been cut. As this terrible business has been performed somewhere in a more or less hidden place, and without any proper tools or knowledge, the healing afterwards is hard and painful.
The girl is not able to walk for several days afterwards. She is bed-bound and must be helped with everything. There are no trained nurses there to care for the girls, mostly several girls are taken at the same time. If the girl begins to bleed, there is not much the women can do about it. They don’t have any knowledge and they don’t have more than some clothes to dry the blood. Too many girls have bled to death because of FGM.
This essay has been very graphic, and I am sure that many of you feel awkward reading it, but the truth about FGM must be told. It has nothing to do with religion, it is only cultural, and it is barbaric. When other countries develop, The Gambia seems to go backwards. Isn’t the life of our girls and women worth anything? Doesn’t their pain and suffering mean anything to you? Mr Almameh Gibba, shame on you! Leave Gambian girls and women alone. Don’t you have anything more important to talk about? Shame on you, Almameh Gibba! Shame on you and your dirty mind!

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