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FGM BILL SURVIVES SECOND READING

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By Omar Bah

Human rights activists have expressed disappointment over lawmakers’ decision to allow a private member’s bill aimed at lifting the ban on female genital mutilation (FGM) to pass a second reading.

The bill, introduced by Almameh Gibba of Foñi Kansala, is seeking to repeal the Women’s (Amendment) Act 2015. FGM was outlawed in The Gambia in 2015 by then president, Yahya Jammeh.

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But influential Muslim clerics have been pushing for the ban to be repealed, while women’s rights activists have vowed to campaign for it to remain in place. More than three-quarter of Gambian females aged between 15 and 49 have undergone FGM or female circumcision, according to the UN.

Followers of the outspoken Muslim cleric, Abdoulie Fatty, rallied in support of the bill as it was introduced for the second time.

They chanted, “female circumcision is my religious belief! Gambia is not for sale!.”

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Introducing the bill for a second reading yesterday, Gibba stated: “The continued existence of the ban on female circumcision and penalising practitioners has directly contradicted the broader principles of the United Nations, which encourages, through its agencies, the preservation and practice of cultural and historical heritages.

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“It is important to challenge the terminology used by anti-female circumcision movements, who label the practice as ‘mutilation’. Properly conducted circumcision, as per religious guidelines and teachings, is not and cannot be deemed mutilation. Revoking the ban on female circumcision will allow people to indulge in the practice with all its precautions, guided by religion, diligence, and care.”

Taking the floor shortly after the bill was introduced for the second time, the Member for Fulladu West, Gibbi Mballow, said: “I came to the National Assembly to protect the interests of the country, and this bill is not serving the interests of this country. We cannot hide behind Islam or culture to inflict harm on our girls and women. This country needs national prayers because, just imagine a scholar cursing me just because I disagree with him.”

Mballow argued that even Prophet Muhammad was against harmful practices, and FGM is harmful to girls and women.

“When the dictator [Jammeh] was here, we were all shouting that he was abusing our rights, and today we want to abuse our own children. I urge all colleagues to bury the bill,” he said.

Member for Kiang East, Lamin Ceesay, who had a different view, argued that he would never participate in enacting a law that would get his constituents arrested for practicing their cultural beliefs.

“The ban on FGM is in conflict with the Gambian constitution because it is depriving Muslims of the right to practise their religions and cultural beliefs. Any law that discriminates against 75 per cent of the population is null and void. We are concerned that the West may sanction us financially if we decriminalise FGM. How about all the corruption cases that we have in this country and the number of millions of dalasis that have been squandered? If they are serious, can’t they sanction us because of those things?” he added. He said even if the bill fails, they will challenge the banning of female circumcision in court.

NAM for Foñi Bintang, Bakary Badjie, accused those who are against the repeal of being sponsored by the West. “They are only after their pockets,” he said.

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Minority leader and Member for Brikama North, Alhagie Darboe, said discussion around FGM should be subjected to a national dialogue.

“If the bill had received this amount of attention, I am sure the then-National Assembly would have made the necessary consultation and dialogue before passing the law to ban FGM. This is why I want to propose that the bill be taken to the committee stage for further dialogue and consultation,” he said.

His suggestion was seconded by the majority leader and Member for Kantora, Bilay Tunkara, who tabled a motion for the bill to be referred to the Assembly Business Committee for committal to committees for further scrutiny.

Reactions

The president of the Female Lawyers Association (Flag), Anna Njie, told The Standard at the National Assembly yesterday that she was disappointed because she thought the bill would have died at its second reading because, as they “have done a lot of work” to convince the National Assembly to ensure that the bill dies at its second reading.

“But we are quite surprised that the majority recommended that the bill go to the committee stage. We are not losing hope; we will keep on fighting, and we will approach the relevant committees to convince them that this is taking the country back when it comes to the protection of the girl child,” she said.

The executive director of Beakanyang Kafo, Nfamara Jawneh, said it is “very unfortunate” that the majority of the parliamentarians are in favour of repealing the law.

He advised the lawmakers to “reflect on their consciences” and make sure that the bill doesn’t pass.

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