By Abdoulie John
Activists have tasked Gambian parliamentarians to legislate a law criminalizing the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). Their call followed President Yahya Jammeh’s impromptu announcement banning the practice. Activists said the practice is harmful to women and girls.
“This pronouncement is welcomed and appreciated because it has brought the skeptics to realise His Excellency’s stand on FGM and a manifestation of the government’s policy on the issue,” said the Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP). The non-profit organization said the fight has been a long hard road but it is time to pause and celebrate. It however said the celebration will not be too long because “there are still girls at risk of FGM in our communities.”
The welcoming mood is gone, and activists are now confronted with the fact that the process should be scaled up as protective legislation on FGM is highly overdue.
GAMCOTRAP describes President Jammeh’s pronouncement as a demonstration of the political will to end the practice in the country. “Therefore policymakers should now take responsibility to ensure that there is a legislation responding to the recent pronouncement,” the activist body said.
Hopes are high that the country’s lawmakers will not turn a deaf ear to persistent calls to legislate a ban on female genital cutting.
Since 2004, GAMCOTRAP has been engaging parliamentarians to raise their consciousness on the impact of FGM on the sexual and reproductive health of women and girls. But the move seems to be counter-productive as MPs kept dodging their responsibility.
“This did not make any impact on them but rather they would tell GAMCOTRAP that “We cannot legislate on FGM because our people are not aware”. This has been the popular rhetoric from most of them who were not sure of His Excellency’s position on the matter. While the NAMS have resisted to take their responsibility to legislate against FGM, the President has opened the door for them. Now the ball is in their court.”
According to United Nations, about 133 million girls and women have experienced some form of female genital mutilation/cutting in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where the harmful practice is most common.