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Fulladu NAM engages over 70 imams on FGM

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By Tabora Bojang

Lower Fulladu lawmaker, Gibbi Mballow, who is among few NAMs advocating against the repealing of the anti-FGM law, has met with over 70 imams in his constituency on the Women’s Amendment Bill 2024 which seeks to decriminalise female genital mutilation.

FGM is banned in The Gambia since 2015 with penalties for up to 3 years imprisonment.

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Last August, three women from CRR were sentenced to a fine of D15,000 each in default to serve one year in prison after they were found guilty of circumcising children.

Since then, there have been growing calls from conservatives for the law to be removed.

In March 2024, Foñi Kansala lawmaker Almameh Gibba tabled a private bill to repeal the ban. The bill passed the second reading and was referred to a committee for a broader stakeholder consultation.

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However, the matter continues to divide opinion among Gambians.

NAM Mballow, who vehemently opposed the repealing of the ban during debate on the second reading of the bill, said the meeting was meant to dialogue with religious leaders in his constituency to understand his reasons for not supporting the repeal, backed by “facts and evidence.” 

“I am elected by the people to serve in the National Assembly and this is why I conduct this meeting with you [imams] because this is a religious matter and it is important to hear from you and what you think about the bill,” he informed the imams.

Mballow added that research has shown that FGM is harmful to women and girls with no religious obligation. He cited Senegal and Saudi Arabia as muslim countries that did not legalise FGM. “So why would Gambia be an exception?” MBallow quizzed.

He also warned that the country risks losing huge gains from the international community if it neglects its commitments towards protecting and promoting women and girls’ rights.

The imams were gathered under the auspices of the Committee of Imams of the Mosques for Lower Fulladu West, an umbrella body of imams in the district.

In his contribution, committee adviser and amir, Alhagie Ibra Nyang, argued that FGM is a religious practice accepted by Prophet Muhammad.

He said as imams they understand that the Constitution prevails over sharia in The Gambia and as such, they will not openly defy legal provisions but people who believe in the practice “will do it secretly.”

“I have been teaching for 60 years and the government never paid me. So money will never change what I believe is my religious obligation,” Imam Nyang charged.

Imam Cherno Gassama of Darsilameh, who described the meeting as important, also re-echoed imam Nyang’s position and expressed opposition to criminalisation of FGM.

He argued that the ban was “imposed” by the former regime without the “consent of the majority” of citizens. “This meeting may not be held if the bill was dismissed at the second reading. And the government has never been supportive of imams. We will not change the verses of Allah for small prizes,” he stated.

Yusupha Banja, the imam of Brikamaba, said all scholars in the country have agreed that FGM is a religious act but optional.

Imam Baboucarr Boye of Boiram and Adama Trawally of Tabanding, hailed NAM Mballow for organising the meeting as it shows the importance he attaches to their roles in fostering peace and tolerance.

Imam Boye added that the engagement will also increase their hope and faith in the lawmaker that he stands for representing the wishes and aspirations of his constituents.

The meeting was heated at certain occasions as some of the contributions stirred nerves.

Speaking to The Standard on the sidelines, when asked about his takeaway from the meeting, NAM Mballow said: “My community is already a divided voice but what they generally agree on is that those who want to do it should be allowed to do it and those who do not want to do it should be free but there should be no penalty but I disagree with this, I believe the law should remain and the penalties should be added.”

According to him, there is still a lot of consultations that need to be done to raise awareness about the dangers of FGM to ensure religious and traditional leaders are on the same wavelength with rights advocates.

The program is coordinated and supported by the Women’s Association of Victims’ Empowerment WAVE as part of its Legal Empowerment Fund program. It is meant to raise awareness, foster understanding and identify locally relevant solutions to address the complex issue of FGM.

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