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Friday, May 24, 2024

Stop! It’s my body!

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With Aisha Jallow

Some years ago, the worldwide organization Save the Children founded a movement called ”Stop! It’s my body”. This movement is very important, but not many outside Scandinavia seems to have heard of it. I will tell you a little about it, because I think it is about time that we started this movement in The Gambia. I am addressing this especially to legislator Almameh Gibba, who is the one who wants to lift the ban on FGM. I want to inspire him to change direction for his efforts and to do something good for the girls and women of The Gambia. Let us give Mr Gibba a chance to save his face, his mind is already lost, but let us try to save at least a little bit of his dignity before it is too late.

Here are some facts about the movement ”Stop! It’s my body”: its aim is to strengthen boys and girls, to encourage them to respect themselves and their integrity. They also learn to respect other’s integrity as well, to not touch or to be touched in an inappropriate way. There are some simple rules the children are taught by the movement:

1.         You have control over your body, and others have control over their bodies.

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2.         You can decide who can hug and kiss you, or do something with your body.

3.         No one is allowed to touch your private parts in a way that you do not understand. Sometimes adults, such as parents or a doctor, may need to do so, but they should then explain to you what they are doing and why.

4.         No one is allowed to force you to touch your penis, vagina, bottom or breasts, neither touch someone else’s.

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5.         No one is allowed to photograph or film your private parts. No one may share or distribute such images.

In a society where every day life is a matter of survival, it is not always easy to consider the small, but so important signals we are giving our children. Are we teaching them that they are important, or do we teach them that what they can achieve is what is important? Can a child be valued for just being a child, or does it have its value in the grades or the work the child is supposed to do around the home? Until the 1960s it was believed that small babies are unable to feel pain, therefore they were not sedated when they had to undergo an operation. Now we know better, but still we treat children in a way we would never accept to be treated as adults.

The Gambia has signed up to several child rights instruments including the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) and the Protocol of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol). Others are the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). In 2015 it became against the law to perform FGM, Female Genital Mutilation. Legislator Almameh Gibba desires to lift the ban, in his opinion this ban is violating the citizens rights to practice their culture and religion in The Gambia. According to Mr Gibba the bill seeks to uphold religious loyalty and safeguard cultural norms and values.

Legislator Gibba is a man whose mindset is a relic from the past, from the ugly past where it was okay to abuse children and to use one’s control over girls as well as women. Mr Gibba doesn’t seem to understand that the world has moved on, or perhaps he has understood and he doesn’t like it. Perhaps he is even a bit afraid of the progress in a world where girls and women are allowed to become independent. In this world that Mr Gibba is afraid of, girls and women can become educated and choose to live a life where they don’t depend on a man to support them.

In this world of independence the girls and women choose their partner, they are not waiting to become chosen. In an equal society we don’t treat boys and girls differently based on their gender. We don’t treat men and women, as objects of our desire or lust, but as equal partners, as team mates, as friends. In a world where we accept and appreciate one another for who we are, and not what we are, we don’t abuse anyone in any way. We allow girls to move on in life with all the body parts they were born with. We don’t force them to undergo any painful, dangerous and humiliating process that can even end their lives. Why would we?

In an equal world we teach our boys and girls to respect themselves and to respect one another. Our main focus should not be on warning the girls for the boys, instead we should educate our boys how to treat the girls. FGM is a matter of controling the girl’s sexuality, but it is an oldfashioned and barbaric way to do that. There are other, more modern and less painful ways to do that. We are born and created with the ability to feel lust. For those, like Mr Gibba, who is advocating to lift the ban on FGM, they refer to religion without knowing that religion has nothing to do with FGM. It is a traditional act in some societies, but most people know better now.

Why is it so important for Mr Gibba to lift the ban on FGM? Why don’t we force him to explain himself? We should take him to a clinic where a woman, who was forced to undergo a cutting in her childhood, has died because she was unable to give birth to her child. Mr Gibba ought to meet this poor woman’s relatives and explain to them why this bill is so important to him. Mr Gibba should be forced to attend a funeral where a young girl is laid to rest having bled to death after her cutting. All girls and women in The Gambia should start a movement where they refuse to be forced into a life where they have no power over their own bodies and their lives.

According to an article in The Standard Newspaper, ”the African Child Policy Forum, a child rights policy, advocacy and research centre, is calling on the Gambian authorities to withdraw a controversial bill that decriminalises female genital mutilation (FGM). Dr. Joan Nyanyuki, Executive Director of the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) stated, “If the law is repealed, Gambia will become the first country in the world to reverse a ban on FGM. Gambia has come a long way in realising children’s rights, and efforts made so far to ensure gender equality have been yielding fruits. Decriminalising FGM will reverse the progress made so far, increase girls’ vulnerability, diminish their agency and put their lives, health and development at risk.”

The movement ”Stop! It’s my body” is helping adults to speak with their children about their bodies and about boundaries. When we do so, we help our kids to determine what is right and what is wrong. We encourage our kids to tell us if anyone is treating them in a way that is not appropriate. We teach them their value and how to say yes or no in these situations. If we instead teach our children to always obey without any questions, we teach them to become easy prey for the abuser. We must consider that if we don’t teach our kids what dangers there are to look out for, then we can’t blame them for ending up in trouble. Attention is prevention!

I strongly advice legislator Almameh Gibba to withdraw his bill. It is greater to show the Gambian girls and women that you have considered all the facts and changed your mind, instead of being stubborn and ridiculed all over both Africa as well as other parts of the world.

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