By Abdoulie John
As the fifty-ninth session of the Commission on the Status of Women is being held, from 9 to 20 March, at the United Nations Headquarters, New York, the issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) continues to draw mixed reactions in Gambia.
Young girls are still subjected to harmful traditional practices, despite substantial gains made by The Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP), a national none-governmental organization which is on the frontlines in the advocacy against FGM.
“A lot has been achieved, but a lot need to be done. We’ve made achievements for practices that are deeply rooted in culture; achievements on the side of the people, women, circumcisers who have
gone through empowerment processes have got the knowledge and the information. They have made decision to protect the next generation of girls,” GAMCOTRAP Program Coordinator Amie Bojang Sissoho told this reporter.
Over these past 10 years, various communities across the country have been constantly exposed by activists to the campaign to eradicate female circumcision in the country. As a result, this prompted
circumcisers to vow to abandon the practice through dropping of the knife ceremony.
Despite the fact that the country’s lawmakers endorsed a Women’s Act (2010) that aims to implement legal provision for the National Policy for the Advancement of Gambian Women and Girls, the government is still dragging its feet with regard to the banning of FGM.
GAMCOTRAP Program Coordinator is with the view that government is the primary duty bearer and should come up with a law to prohibit FGM in order to protect sexual and reproductive health rights of women and girl-children. “When we do dropping of the knife ceremony, you have government officials who are there to listen to what the people are saying. I think they just need to take action, specially the national assembly members.”
Minority Leader Samba Jallow of the opposition National Reconciliation Party (NRP) said it won’t be an easy task for the National Assembly to approve legislation that could ban the practice of FGM. “It is very difficult to ban FGM in The Gambia. There are cultural and religious issues at stake,” he told this reporter.
He debunked reports that women rights activists are making impact in predominantly rural areas where the ‘practice of FGM is still flourishing. “I frequently travel to the provinces and the practice continues to survive.”
He described the dropping of the knife ceremonies organized by activists as a false claim. “Honestly, it is a false pretense by circumcisers. They are just faking abandoning the practice of FGM. That is not true.”
Minority Leader Samba Jallow suggested that a salutary alternative would be to allow circumcisers to conduct FGM in government health facilities. “Let them do it in health centers,” he said.
In recent times, exiled Gambian Muslim cleric Baba Leigh has made it clear that FGM is a cultural – rather than religious – practice. “FGM is un-Islamic as there is no requirement in the Quran that it should be carried out,” he said.