30 women circumcisers in The Gambia have vowed to stop Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). So, has Gamcotrap’s campaign to eradicate this deep-seated cultural practice been a success so far, asks Binta A. Bah.
The Gambia has ratified and signed international and regional instruments on all forms of harmful traditional practices such as the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women or CEDAW as well as enactment of local laws to promote and protect the rights of women and children. For example, the Children’s Act and the Women’s Act call for protection of children from harmful traditional practices as well as educating the population on the effects of harmful traditional practices on reproductive health in particular.
However, the Women’s Act has failed to spell out female genital mutilation which is regarded as violence against women, violates their rights and affects their health in numerous ways.
Section 21 of the Women’s Act 2010 specifically guarantees women the right to protection of health and safety including the safeguarding of the function of their reproductive health but how effective is this? With virtually no law in place to prohibit the practice in the country, it seems hard to stop the practice in a short period.
Three decades ago, the issue of FGM was regarded by many as a taboo to be talked about in public or discussed. But tomorrow, 13th April 2013, 30 women circumcisers will make a public declaration to stop FGM in a ceremony in Wassu, Central River Region. This ‘dropping of the knife’ will be fourth ceremony of its kind.
As GAMCOTRAP reaches out to more Communities in the country, more circumcisers are pledging to drop their knives.
Gamcotrap is a women’s rights NGO working in the area of women and girls and to stop harmful practices that affect the lives and circumstances of women and girls in The Gambia. They have been very active and effective in stopping FGM. And yes, their struggle has led many to drop their knife.
The first ever public declaration of dropping the knife was held in 2007 at the Independence Stadium in Bakau where eighteen women circumcisers publicly vowed to abandon female circumcision. This was followed by a bigger one held in the provincial capital of Upper River Region, Basse, in 2009 where over 60 women circumcisers have also declared to have stopped the practice.
In 2011, 20 women circumcisers from 150 communities in Lower River Region publicly vowed to abandon at a ceremony held at Soma. ‘Dropping the knife’ symbolizes a public declaration of abandonment of the deep-seated cultural practice.
FGM, which has been scientifically proven unfavorable to the health and wellbeing of women, is still widely practiced. The practice which involves the removal of part, or all, of the female genitalia has left many women’s lives miserable, according to women’s right activists and health officials.
Research has shown the most common form of genital mutilation performed in The Gambia is known as the excision, which includes removal of all, or part of the labia minora, and cutting of the labia majora to create raw surfaces, which are then stitched or held together in order to form a cover over the vagina when healed.
During this process, a small hole is left to allow urine and menstrual blood to flow. In some less conventional forms, less tissue is removed and a larger opening is left.
Girls and women are being circumcised on daily basis for different reasons. Many will say it is tradition while others will say it is religion. But it appears to be linked to traditional beliefs rather than religion, because there are people who believe the practice is done for reducing the sexual desire of a woman to avoid promiscuity and purification of women.
Some religious leaders in the country have condemn the practice, that FGM is not a religious obligation (neither Farda nor Sunnah), and has negative effects on women and girls.
It is estimated that over 130 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM and 30 million are at risk. This has become a global problem which requires immediate targeted solutions.