By Binta A Bah
It turned out a moment filled with emotions that hot and sunny afternoon in the historical village of Wassu, Central River Region, when 30 once-committed women cutters, publicly rose up to denounce the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and surrendered their knives.
It was the first of its kind in the region and women danced to the rhythm of the drums and the mellow tunes that set the mood. The colorfully dressed women, raised their hands in celebration, snaked their way in front of the guests including governors, community groups, religious leaders, local leaders, FGM survivors, youth groups, ex-cutters and individual activists and European delegates in the country and one by one, they put down their once much-treasured tools – the FGM knives – on the ground.
This spectacular event took place during the fourth ‘dropping of the knife’ event held at Wassu in the Central River Region of the Gambia on 13th April 2013. Some women, village heads and chiefs had traveled many kilometers to the venue to take part in the event.
Amid cheers from the crowd, the women said they made the decision to stop the practice after understanding that FGM is harmful and have negative impact on the lives of women and girls. They said that they were educated about the negative consequences of FGM by GAMCOTRAP, a women’s rights organization that fight to create awareness on the dangers of cutting women/girls; and advocate change in attitudes towards a culture that is supportive of the social and economic empowerment of women and girls.
GAMCOTRAP also provides alternative sources of income for circumcisers by facilitating the creation of small-scale business ventures to those who hitherto earn income from the practice.
Dressed uniformly in traditional Gambian costume, girls were seated on the ground to demonstrate the traditional practice. The day-long programme also witnessed the performance of Kora maestro, Jaliba Kuyateh and handing out certificates to chiefs, alkalolus, and health centers in CRR among others.
This speeding up in the abandonment of FGM has been attributed GAMCOTRAP, who has being in the struggle for almost 30 years ago. This specular day was initiated by Gamcotrap, whose successful achievements has lead hundreds of women who were responsible for circumcising girls to understand negative effects of FGM.
“This day does not only make me realized my mistakes but has teach me to take the trade to protect innocent young-girls’,” said one of the ex-cutters,KumbaMbowe.
‘Dropping of the knife’ symbolizes a public declaration of abandonment of the deep-rooted traditional practice shrouded in secrecy. In 2007, GAMCOTRAP celebrated the first public declaration to end FGM, which served as a gateway for the beginning of change of minds. This was followed b
y two bigger ones held in the provincial capital of Upper River Region, Basse, in 2009 and Soma Lower River Region 2011 where over 80 women circumcisers denounced the practice.
“This day is bigger than the moment. It signifies the giant community to say no to FGM” said Dr. Isatou Touray, Executive Director of GAMCOTRAP.
Dr Touray praised the ex-cutters for the commitment to eradicate
FGM. “When people are empowered, they demand their rights. It is the beginning of a change” she said.
Both the third and the fourth dropping of the knife are funded by UNFPA.
“We have come a long way in the struggle to abandon FGM and will not relent” said Fatou Kinteh, National Programme Officer Gender and FGM UNFPA. “It is not easy for individuals and communities to abandon A DEEP ROOTED traditional practice which is over hundred years old, but with continuous and persistent engagement, GAMCOTRAP can make it”
There is no law for the abandonment of FGM in the Gambia, but according to the regional director of health in CRR, FGM is serious concern for the government of the Gambia. Jankubeh Jabbi, deputized the minister of health who was supposed to attend the ceremony on behalf of President Yahya Jammeh.
He said women who had undergone the practice are like to suffer during childbirth and to end maternal mortality, there is need to take action to end FGM and gender violence.
“The dropping of the knife celebrated is a signal in ultimate abandonment of FGM in the Gambia’ he said, “the event marks a celebration that has given people the confidence and belief that change is a possible in our communities”.