Among the very few things the previous government did right was its strict and uncompromising stance on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C). This is a traditional practice which has been shown to be harmful to the girl child while she is young, and is likely to follow her to adulthood. It has even been shown to prevent women from being able to bear children later in life.
Thus the banning and uncompromising stance of the previous government had reduced the practice to a mere minimum. Women rights activists found a strong support from the previous government, at least on this front.
This is a sensitive issue which is somehow a taboo to talk about in a conservative society like The Gambia. However, the importance of this and the direct link it has to the health and development of the nation will push it through the national agenda. This needs to occupy part of the public space so that the ordinary person is aware; the ordinary person is given a choice; so that the ordinary person is given the candle to light through his/her way.
Women groups and rights activists need to revitalize this debate in order to remind people of the dangers and the harm that FGM has on both the individual and the society as a whole. If people are not reminded, are allowed to forget, then the return to the practice is a worrying consequence which we do not want to witness.
In order for the activists and the women groups to succeed they need the support of the government. If therefore government were to come out and make a statement condemning the practice and that it should not be done, it will strengthen the voices of the people.
But, there is another dimension to this issue, Yahya Jammeh banned the practice here and no one dared try it. But since his departure, there has been a mistaken view of many [particularly uneducated] in the society that he has gone away with his laws, and as such it has given an aura of breaking the law because the ‘owner’ isn’t here.
If this issue of FGM happens to fall under such misguided views, all the work that they and the women rights activists have done will be for nothing. It is for this reason that President Adama Barrow should address the nation and assure the people that the anti-FGM law is still here.
This is why it is imperative that President Barrow comes out and talks to the people. Reassure the womenfolk that FGM is still banned as it was then; and warn those who might be tempted to break the law.