A total of 901 communities from different regions in The Gambia have abandoned female genital mutilation (FGM) in less than six years.
From 2007 to 2011, over 565 communities all over the country dropped the knife of female circumcision. The first dropping of the knife, a public ceremony in which the circumcisers publicly declare their abdication of FGM, was held in 2007. The second one in 2009, and the third one was held in 2011.
Again, 30 circumcisers with 336 communities from Central River Region north of The Gambia have recently abandoned the harmful traditional practice and are also going to make a public declaration to that effect. In The Gambia, one circumciser can serve multiple communities.
The executive director of the Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP), Dr Isatou Touray, whose organization is spearheading this development, said the 2013 dropping of the knife ceremony is scheduled to take place on the 13 April 2013.
She pointed out that all the circumcisers who dropped the knife have the full support of their tradition chiefs and other village heads, and the women folks are as well fully behind them.
Gamcotrap is self-mandated to fight against all forms of harmful traditional practices that are inimical to the health and wellbeing of women and children with special focus on FGM.
Dr Touray noted the trend for the eradication of FGM in The Gambia is very positive as her organization continues to empower the people with the right information about FGM and demystify the notion that the harmful traditional practice is a religious injunction.
She explained that they do the advocacy campaign region by region. “Any region we enter, we take them through our modules, through our empowerment from process. We empowered them with the right information by exposing them to our different modules that address various aspects of FGM ranging from religious, traditional and wo
men rights,” she said.
She claimed that so far, any region they enter, before leaving that region for another one, all or most of the communities within that region will abandon FGM.
However, she pointed out that the biggest challenge they face in the campaign is the religious discourse about FGM.
“In every region we go to, most of the people there will say they are doing FGM for the sake of God because they were told that it is an Islamic injunction by some Islamic scholars,” Dr Touray said.
However, she said they made it known to the people that FGM is not a religious (Islamic) injunction. Some of those people themselves made their own independent research about it. They realized that FGM is actually not an Islamic injunction and they abandoned it and are now joining the anti-FGM campaign.
She noted that they are still facing challenges from some “unprogressive religious scholars” who continue to preach that FGM is an Islamic injunction.
However, she pointed out that some renowned Islamic scholars like Imam Baba Leigh have acknowl
edged that the practice is not an Islamic injunction and are helping Gamcotrap to spread “truth” about FGM and Islam.
Alternative livelihood for circumcisers
Dr Touray said in their dealing with the communities, they found out that circumcisers used to have cash or kind from every circumcision they did, though cash is relatively very insignificant.
“So in that case, some of the circumcisers usually asked ‘when I leave this (circumcision) what will I be doing’. Now we do not just give them money because we do not want the carrot and stick style,” Gamcotrap executive director said.
“So what we do is to introduce them to an alternative livelihood strategy, our AEO – Alternative Employment Opportunity,” she added.
She said through the AEO, they empower the circumcisers who dropped the knife to look at their environment to see what they can do to earn a sustainable income and stop letting the blood – cutting a very essential part of the woman body.
She said: “They look at what they want to be engaged in and we subject them to an entrepreneurship development management.
“Then we give them a grant to set but their own enterprise and be monitoring them. The grant is in aid, not loan.”