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Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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FGM law repeal bill – a retrogressive move

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By D. A. Jawo

Many Gambians concerned about the health and welfare of our womenfolk have expressed worry about plans to introduce a private member’s bill in the National Assembly to repeal the law banning female genital mutilation (FGM), which was promulgated in 2015.

The bill, entitled Women’s Amendment Bill 2024 and intended to decriminalise FGM, is scheduled to be introduced by the National Assembly Member for Fôni Kansala, Almameh Gibba.

Many people see this move as a retrogressive step which takes The Gambia backwards, away from the comity of civilised nations, rather than forward with the rest of the world. It has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt that FGM is not only a violation of the rights of the girl child, but it also poses serious health hazards to women and girls. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “female genital mutilation is a violation of women’s and girls’ rights, one that endangers their physical and mental health and limits their potential to lead healthy and fulfilling lives. It increases their risk of serious pain, bleeding and infections and the likelihood of other health complications later in life, including risks during childbirth, which can imperil the lives of their newborns.”

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It went on to say that FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and it interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies.

With all those dangers that the practice poses to our womenfolk, one would wonder why anyone should push for its legalisation. While Honourable Gibba and his ilk are trying to use Islam to justify their intentions, according to many Islamic scholars, FGM is purely a cultural practice which has no religious value. The Islamic Shari’a Council, the Muslim College and the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) have all condemned the practice of FGM within the Muslim community. MCB adds that FGM is not an Islamic requirement and that there is no reference to it in the Holy Qur’an that states girls must be circumcised.

For instance, the practice does not exist in certain Islamic countries like Morocco. Tunisia, Algeria and Libya. Also in the other Muslim countries where it used to be practiced such as Egypt and Iran, it has been banned. It is therefore hard to see how anyone in this country would try to justify such a hazardous and unnecessary practice which causes harm rather than any good to the health and welfare of our womenfolk.

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The journal Women In Islam (volume 6, 2023) states: “There is not a single verse in the Qur’an that can be used as a basis for FGM/C; on the contrary there are many verses that condemn the practice. There are strong stipulations in Islam that uphold the sanctity of the human body; causing harm to the human body without any religious justification is strictly prohibited.”

Apart from the health hazard and the lack of any justification for the practice in Islam, a repeal of the law is likely to be detrimental to The Gambia’s relationship with many of its donor partners. The Gambia has been a signatory to many international protocols and conventions which have strong views on such harmful practices like FGM and if the law is repealed, it would not be welcomed by those development partners and that could have some negative effect on our relations with them. Let’s therefore hope that both President Adama Barrow as head of state and leader of the National People’s Party and Ousainu Darboe as leader of the United Democratic Party which two parties form the bulk of the National Assembly members would talk to their members not to support such a retrogressive bill when it is tabled for debate. I am quite certain that the members of PDOIS would never support such a bill. Therefore, if those three parliamentary groups vote against the bill, then it would stand very little chance of ever seeing the light of day.

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