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Fôni NAM introduces bill to repeal anti-FGM law

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By Olimatou Coker

National Assembly Members are set to debate a bill that aims to repeal the anti-FGM law nearly a decade after it was passed.

The bill, named Women’s Amendment Bill 2024 intended to decriminalise FGM, will be introduced by Fôni Kansala representative, Almameh Gibba.

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The National Assembly passed the anti-FGM law in 2015 a month after former president ,Yahya Jammeh, announced banning it, with up to three years imprisonment as a penalty.

However, since Jammeh’s ousting seven years ago, there have been growing calls for the law to be scrapped with prominent Islamic leader Abdoulie Fatty leading the crusade.

The Supreme Islamic Council issued a fatwa in September 2023 defending female circumcision as Islamic and called on the government to reconsider the legislation.

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A public notice about the new bill issued by the Office of the Clerk of the National Assembly this week stated: “This Bill seeks to lift the ban on female circumcision in The Gambia, a practice deeply rooted in the ethnic, traditional, cultural, and religious beliefs of the majority of the Gambian people. It seeks to uphold religious purity and safeguard cultural norms and values. The current ban on female circumcision is a direct violation of citizens’ rights to practice their culture and religion as guaranteed by the Constitution.

“Given The Gambia’s predominantly Muslim population, any law that is inconsistent with the aspirations of the majority of the people should be reconsidered. Female circumcision is a culturally significant practice supported by Islam, with clear proofs of the teachings from our Prophet (S.A.W.). It is to be noted that the use of laws to restrict religious or cultural practices, whether intentional or otherwise, can lead to conflict and friction.

“Interestingly, 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.

“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. Emphasising this distinction is crucial in addressing concerns raised by activists.

“Revoking the ban on female circumcision will allow people to indulge in the practice with all its precautions, guided by religion, diligence, and care.”

Sources in parliament said the bill has already been gazetted and conversations are on going to include it in the schedule of the next sessions in March 2024.

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