FGM, as it is called in short, has for long been misconceived as a religious injunction. The practice has traditionally been conducted in a context of secrecy. Excision is seen as giving power to girls in their rite of passage into womanhood. Unfortunately, the unintended consequence of the actions of these well-meaning parents and guardians is that lives are being lost to the practice, besides sexual and reproductive health hazards.
However, the commendable strides made by various women rights advocates in the past three decades in painstakingly raising the awareness of Gambian people to abandon this life shattering practice is no doubt yielding impressive results. For instance, in 1998, a symposium for religious leaders and medical personnel on FGM, which was organised by Gamcotrap, has resulted in the Banjul Declaration of July 22, 1998. This declaration states that the practice has neither Christian or Islamic origins; nor any religious justifications and condemns its continued practice.
Moreover, cognisant of the fact that female genital mutilation does not involve only the cutting, Baffrow had developed alternative rites of passage that emphasised girls’ rights as individuals, their health, religious education, community responsibilities and consultation, and a 30-member advisory committee, composed of community and religious leaders as well as health workers, traditional circumcisers, and local government officials.
Unfortunately, these, among other successes registered at the initial stages of the campaign were faced with some obstacles, not only from the members of the community, including some religious leaders, but also from the government.
However, more significant gains have been registered in the last ten years with a series of declarations of abandonment by circumcisers and communities in various parts of the country, ever since the Gamcotrap-led one in 2007. In fact, the Gambian president in 2009 declared that he is not in support of the practice of FGM and advised those engaging in it to stop it. And in 2010, the National Assembly pledged to pass into law any bill that bans FGM after attending a workshop organised by Gamcotrap.
It therefore beats one’s imagination that despite these strong declarations of political intentions, coupled with ratification of a series of international and regional protocols, which have condemned FGM in very clear terms, the government of The Gambia remains unready to outlaw the practice. Word has been that what is today called the Women’s Act, 2010 had a provision that clearly bans the practice, but that portion of the bill was removed before it was submitted for legislation.
Furthermore, Gamcotrap has taken the initiative of coming up with a proposed law that seeks to outlaw female circumcision. It is hoped that with the entrance of youth activists like Think Young Women, the government of The Gambia will lend support, at least in the interest of our suffering women. It is in no doubt that the campaign now has reached its tipping point. But this must be accompanied by a piece of legislation to be used as additional ammunition in our collective efforts to protect our women from the cutting blades.]]>