Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) refers to “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”
More than 130 million women worldwide are subjected to the procedure in Africa and the Middle East in the name of tradition and social norms.
It is considered a violation of girls’ and women’s human rights and is condemned by many international treaties and conventions, as well as by national legislations in many countries. Yet, where it is practised, FGM/C is performed in line with tradition to ensure that girls are socially accepted and marriageable, and to uphold their status and honour and that of the entire family.
In November, 2015, former Gambian president, Yahya Jammeh, announced that the controversial surgical intervention would be outlawed. Meanwhile, the country also banned child marriage in 2016, with tough penalties for those who are guilty. In The Gambia, children below the age of eighteen are still forced into marriage by either their parents or close relatives despite the law against the practice. It is reported that 30% of girls in The Gambia are married before the age of 18 and 9% are married before their 15th birthday.
“I’m really amazed that the president did this. I didn’t expect this in a million years. I’m just really proud of my country and I’m really, really happy,” Jaha Dukureh, an anti-FGM activist said of the ban on FGC.
However, despite the ban there are communities who are still “secretly” practicing FGC.
But in an attempt to ensure a total overhaul on the practice in the country, Tostan, a US-registered international non-governmental organization headquartered in Dakar, Senegal is making significant progress in convincing communities to abolish the practice.
Last week, in a ground-breaking ceremony in Kerewan, 25 villages in CRR South through Tostan’s intervention officially declared that they have abandon the practice in totality.
The development is seen as clear testimony of the achievement registered by Tostan’s community empowerment program.
Sarjo Jallow, Kerewan’s Dumbokono CMC coordinator said Tostan’s intervention has been very instrumental in inspiring the villagers to finally make up their minds on abolishing the practice.
“Today, thanks to Tostan, 25 communities in Upper and Lower Fulladu Districts openly announced that they have voluntarily abandoned the practice of Female Genital Cutting and child marriage,” she said to a rousing applause.
According to unconfirmed reports in the area, the practice was still very common because it’s hard to reach for authorities and law enforcers.
Madam Jallow said the decision to abandon the practice comes as a result of a three-year holistic community empowerment program led by Tostan facilitators, social mobilization and sensitization activities by village CMCs, class participants and reinforcement of social mobilization agents.
She said the communities were taken through rigorous sensitisation on issues affecting the health and well-being of women and girls as a violation of their fundamental human rights.
According to officials, Tostan community empowerment programs were not just focused on FGC and child marriage but also on sustainable community development especially for those who relied on the practice to make ends meet.
The programs were funded by Tostan international and supported by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare, CRR Governor’s office, the technical advisory committee and local councils.
Another beneficiary, Awa Dem commended Tostan for their lifesaving interventions in the area and urged her colleagues to take good advantage of the knowledge they learned in the past three years.
“Tostan’s intervention in the country has also played a big role in uniting communities because of the interactive activities they host for different communities and individuals from all walks of life,” she added.
All the speakers at the event expressed gratitude to Tostan-Gambia for the support and assured them of their continued partnership.
Tostan started their community engagements in Dasilami Mandinka in Sandu District in June 2009 and since then they have put smiles on the faces of many communities in CRR and URR.
Now, the NGO’s intervention has covered more than 213 communities who have all abandoned the practice of Female Genital Cutting and Child Marriage. In all these communities, individuals are trained to serve as protectors and promoters of women and girls’ rights.