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GWAFC urges Assembly to lift ban on female circumcision

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Gambian Women are Free to Choose (GWAFC), a community-based organization, has called on the National Assembly to lift the ban on female circumcision.  The group further explained that they are echoing the voices of ‘the vast majority of grassroots women in The Gambia’ who uphold female circumcision as a religious expression and a cultural right.

In a press release shared with The Standard, the group said it supports the Women’s (Amendment) Bill 2023, which seeks to decriminalize the act.

According to GWAFC it will, in the next few weeks, finalise and submit a detailed position paper with important references to legal, medical, social, anthropological, human rights and sex/gender studies. 

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The group argued that many Muslims worldwide view both female and male circumcision as complementary and interdependent Sunna practices in Islam and though neither practice is explicitly mentioned in the Quran, both are part of the Hadiths of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) and thus, are valued as religious duty.

Also, the group added, the Supreme Islamic Council has issued a fatwah defending female circumcision as a Sunna practice and the right of Muslim women to uphold female circumcision as a religious expression and duty. “We also believe that female and male circumcision are complementary and interdependent cultural practices that predate Islam and also because the majority of ethnic groups in The Gambia practice both male and female circumcision as part of gender inclusive initiation that confer and affirm the right of marriage between a husband and wife in accordance with ancestral tradition or customary law,” GWAFC said.

The group further argued: “For most Gambian women, female circumcision also enhances hygiene and eliminates transmission of the cancer-causing HPV virus as well the accumulation of smegma and bacteria that can cause phimosis or painful fusions of clitoral foreskin. Despite the promulgation of FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) propaganda by activists via WHO, various UN agencies and mainstream global media, there is no scientific or medical evidence that we are aware of (including the 2006 WHO Study that is often cited), which demonstrates that uncircumcised women living under the same environment and facing the same constraints or obstacles to adequate health care as circumcised women, have more favorable outcomes in terms of sexual and reproductive health”.

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The GWAFC said apart from female circumcision’s religious, cultural, gender, aesthetic, sexual and health benefits, the practice is protected under the Constitution of The Gambia by specific provisions that guarantee gender equality, right to religion and right to culture. 

“As an organisation we are committed to listening to and working directly with affected anti-FGM (and anti-male circumcision) activists to identify common ground and develop effective strategies. We support community-based initiatives and culturally sensitive language that address concerns on all sides, in ways that are respectful of all Gambians. The prohibition of female circumcision is a considerable barrier to the work of building mutual trust, respect, communication and self-reliance among Gambian women and within our communities,” it said. 

The GWAFC is a community-based organisation that was formed in 2016 to protect the fundamental human rights of women and girls in The Gambia to gender equality, religious freedom and cultural expression that are guaranteed under the 1997 Constitution.

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