The raging debate on the pros and cons of FGM/female circumcision and the call by some people for the repeal of the law banning it, is certainly not doing any good to The Gambia’s reputation as a respecter of international protocols. We are all aware that The Gambia has signed and ratified virtually all the conventions and other international instruments that have called for the banning of such unnecessary and harmful traditional practices like FGM/FC, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), all of which infringe on the rights and welfare of women and girls. It is therefore obligatory on the government to ensure their implementation without any unnecessary reservations.
It has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt that FGM/FC causes great short-term and long-term physical and mental harm to its victims and it is hard to understand how anyone would not only defend but also advocate for the continuation of such a harmful practice.
Contrary to the views held by the Supreme Islamic Council (SIC), there is very little connection between Islam and FGM, apart from the fact that a majority of those who still practice it (apart from Ethiopia and Eritrea) are found in Muslim-majority countries. It is a well-known fact that FGM/FC is a tradition that predates Islam and according to those Islamic scholars who do not assume any fiduciary interest on the issue, there is nowhere in the Qur’an where it is mentioned, let alone justified.
According to an article published in Women in Islam Journal in 2015; “While there is clear support in the sunnah (Prophet Muhammad’s teachings and actions) for male circumcision in Islam, there is no evidence for FGM/C; on the contrary there are many verses that condemn the practice. There are strong stipulations in Islam that uphold the sanctity of the human body; causing harm to the human body without any religious justification is strictly prohibited.”
Therefore, why would the Fatwa and Moon Sighting Committee of the Supreme Islamic Council which seems to comprise only men who have no personal experience of the effect of the practice on its victims, not only assume the right to speak on behalf of the women and girls of this country, but to also issue a fatwa against those fighting for the rights of those marginalized women and girls? With such belligerence and intolerance that the SIC have treated the issue, they are not only devaluing their role in the shaping of the morals of the society, but they also seem to be losing the moral high ground that they were supposed to occupy on the matter. It is even quite disappointing, considering the calibre and high esteem that some members of the SIC are held in the society, that they would subscribe to the so-called fatwa that was issued against the advocates of the continuous ban on FGM. We have really passed that stage in this country when any group would use cohesive force to impose its will on the people. Therefore, that fatwa was uncalled for and unnecessary and we all expected the members of the SIC to be more tolerant in their dealings with Gambians with different views from theirs.
Another quite disappointing aspect of the whole debate is the failure of the government to take any decisive position on the matter, especially in view of the open incitement of people to disobey the law by certain clergy and their cohorts. This is certainly a clear manifestation of the lack of political will on the part of the government to enforce the laws dealing with FGM. We are all aware that it is being almost quite openly practiced in complete violation of the law and there is no doubt that both the police and other law enforcers are aware of it but turning a blind eye to it. We have seen, for instance, how the police have been quite swift to “invite for questioning” those perceived opposition sympathisers for merely expressing their views and yet, they do not seem to have the courage to confront those not only clearly violating the law but threatening violence against those advocating against the practice.
One would wonder whether the government and those making so much noise about it, are aware of the consequences of their actions, especially with regards to their donor partners who have put in so much resources and energy to help implement the fight against harmful traditional practices. It is quite sad that while the rest of the world are moving forward in protecting the rights and welfare of their people, the Gambia seems to be back pedaling on its obligations to its own people.