the intervention of Tostan International The Gambia, at least 15 communities in
five districts of the Upper River Region (URR) on Thursday solemnly declared to
abandon the deeply rooted cultural and traditional practice of Female Genital
Cutting (FGC) and child marriage.
The landmark event came as a result of a three-year intensive training exercise under the Tostan Community Empowerment Programme. These communities had successfully undergone training sessions covering democracy, human rights, problem solving skills, health and hygiene among others.
The ceremony was held at Sare Yerori village in the Sandu District, with senior government officials in attendance and districts chiefs.
In her declaratory statement on behalf of the 15 communities, Aminata Baldeh, said: “Our historic decision, aims to reinforce the ‘national movement’ for the promotion of human rights that started in Mali Kunda Bambara, in Senegal and Dasilameh Mandinka in Sandu, The Gambia in June 2009 will continue to shine in The Gambia.”
This great event, she said, came from the learning of human rights that were reinforced with sensitisation and social mobilisation activities by the community management committees and social mobilisation agents.
“We join the movement – the movement that started in Darsilameh Sandu in 2009 and which has not ceased to shine in our region of URR, where more than 181 communities have now abandoned the practice of FGC, child marriage to protect and promote women’s and girls’ health and wellbeing,” she stated.
The chief of Sandu district, Jun Bah, on behalf of the regional governor, urged the government and the beneficiary communities to ensure the sustainability of the project in the region. “Tostan is one of the most important projects in the region. More communities have been trained by the grassroot NGO and supported in order to initiate their own projects.”
He recalled that Sare Demba village, which is a beneficiary village was given D26, 000, but they now have more than 100, 000 dalasis in savings. “In my own village, we used to have not more than one hundred students in our school. However, thanks to the intervention of the project, we can now boast of more than three hundred students.”
Sainey Cham, deputising for the Women Bureau’s executive director, underscored the significant role Tostan is playing in the region, acknowledging that lots of issues that used to happen in the region in the areas of FGC and child marriage have become history.
“This declaration is significant for the fact that it clearly indicates our stand in eliminating all forms of harmful tradition practices affecting our wellbeing. “We can teach our children on our culture and tradition. However, any culture or tradition that is harmful and have implication should not be practiced.”
Muya Baldeh, CMC coordinator, said thanks to the intervention of Tostan, almost all their children have now acquired birth certificates. “We used to remove our girls from school for child marriage but it’s now history. We the women are ready to ensure that our children are educated up to university level.”
The lawmaker for Sandu, Muhammed Mahanera and Yaya Beyai chairman of the steering committee both spoke at length on the transformation the project has brought to the door steps of the beneficiary communities and urged for the sustainability of the project and also for them to expand it to other communities in the region.