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African Union invites Gamcotrap among experts to share best practices to eliminate harmful traditional practices on the continent

Oct 19, 2011, 2:50 PM

African Union Invites Gamcotrap Among Experts To Share Best Practices To Eliminate Harmful Traditional Practices On The Continent

GAMCOTRAP was invited under the auspices of the African Union, co-sponsored by GIZ formally called GTZ to present a paper on best practices to eliminate FGM in Africa.

The Pan African Conference on Celebrating Courage and Overcoming Harmful Traditional Practices was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 5-7th of October 2011. The objective of the conference was to bring together experts from the continent working on traditional practices to share their approaches/strategies on the elimination of Harmful Traditional Practices (HTPS).

The overall and overarching goal of the conference was to contribute to continental efforts for the promotion and protection of the rights of women and girls. Within this purview, it hopes to celebrate achievements and courage, promote positive cultural values and overcome barriers to combat HTPs.

The specific objectives of the Conference include:

a. Advocating for the ratification and domestication of the African Union Protocol to the Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Charter on the African Cultural Renaissance ;

b. Documenting and drawing further attention to the current status of women and children as regards their human rights and legal protection;

c. Highlighting aspects of African culture, customs and traditions which hinder development in general and impede the advancement of women and children in particular;

d. Providing a forum for building effective partnerships between national, regional, continental and international organisations to bring an end to Harmful Traditional Practices;

e. Identifying and sharing best practices to eliminate HTPs;

f. Ensuring that strategies to eliminate HTPs are effective and coordinated, leading to a continent-wide movement to eliminate the practices;

g. Developing a plan of action/framework to serve as guideline to governments and organisations for effective implementation at regional and national levels.

The expected outcomes of the Conference were to convey a clear political message with respect to HTPs. It also hopes to help translate the knowledge and conclusions generated from this conference into concrete actions and documents which can guide future advocacy and programmatic interventions. The concrete outcomes of the conference will include:

a)Enhanced political will towards ratification and domestication of the African Union Protocol to the Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and Charter on the African Cultural Renaissance;

b) Increased commitments by national structures, regional, continental and international institutions, civil society organizations and development partners to enhance partnerships in efforts to bring an end to HTPs;

c) Increased understanding by activists continent-wide about existing institutional commitments against HTP;

d) Harmful Traditional Practice elimination strategies leading to a continent-wide movement;

e) Renewed commitment by the African Union and regional bodies to advocate for and coordinate actions to eliminate HTPs;

f) A plan of action on HTPs and a statement of commitment for adoption by the African Union Policy Organs for subsequent dissemination and implementation at national level;

g) Advocacy for Member States to commemorate the 6th of February as the International Day on “Zero Tolerance to FGM”;

The main outcome document of the Conference was A Commitment for Action to the Elimination of HTPs.

In a bid to achieve the above goal and objectives, various experts presented case studies of the strategies and approaches they have employed over the years to effect positive change in their various contexts to eliminate HTPS. Dr Isatou Touray, the Executive Director of GAMCOTRAP presented a paper on the “Cluster and Systems Approach to the Elimination of HTPS in the Gambia”.

Opening Remarks

In his opening speech the Director of the Department of Social Affairs and Public Policy of the AU, Dr Olawale Maiyegun, noted that the aim of the AU is committed to Africa wide commitment to Ban FGM. He noted that the recently concluded meeting of Heads of States was towards that direction.

The Ambassador of the Republic of Germany, Her Excellency, Mrs Lieselore Cyrus in her goodwill speech noted that this conference was unique because it praises the courage of women, of young people, and community leaders who have shown how to prevail over practices which have outlived their legitimacy. This conference was unique because it lays focus on solutions rather than problems. The African Union adds value to the discussions and debates on Harmful Traditional Practices by bringing various experts to share their best practices that have been found to bring positive change in their various contexts. She ended by noting that Germany has been involved in supporting the fight against HTPs. She further reiterated her country’s support to the AU and the Commission for Social Affairs in pursuit of elimination of HTPs.

Her Excellency, Mrs Zeinebiu Tadesse, The Minister of Women, Children and Youth Affairs of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia also welcomed the participants and noted that this conference was timely and is towards the right direction in recognising the contributions of National Committees to eliminate HTPs in their various contexts.

Similarly, a prominent Islamic Scholar from Mauritania, Dr Sheikh Ould Zein, in his contribution noted that FGM is not a religious obligation and he cannot understand how scholars associate FGM with Islam.  He informed the audience that they have just concluded a conference that brought together various scholars from West Africa to come up with a position regarding FGM and religion. The outcome of the conference resulted to a West African FATWA ( Islamic ruling) from West African Islamic Scholars which gave a clear perspective on FGM and Islam.

Her Excellency, Ms Biennce GAWANAS, Commissioner of The African Union Department of Social Affairs, in her statement welcomed the participants to the AU Conference and the 1st Pan African Conference on Celebrating Courage and Overcoming Harmful Traditions. She noted, “The Pan African Conference could not have been held at a better time, as the debate and actions on the promotion of our African cultural traditions, values and the Pan Africanism spirit as well as the achievement of the MDGs particularly related to health, gender, education and poverty eradication are taking centre stage at continental and global levels”.  She further informed the participants that the “African Union’s aim in organizing such an important conference was to acknowledge the work and congratulate all those individuals and organizations who spared no effort in ensuring that health and well being of women and girl-children are promoted. They  took up the courage and initiative to embark on programs and campaigns to create awareness with the view to combat these harmful traditional practices. At the same time we wish to share best practices so that all of us can benefit from experiences throughout the continent and elsewhere which will inform decision makers in the development and adoption of legal and policy tools and instruments and give voice to the voiceless, to mitigate and ultimately eradicate these harmful traditional practices in our continent”, Says Commissioner GAWANAS.

She further noted that 130 Million girls are subjected to HTPs, while some parts of the world are involved in technological innovations; we are still lingering with Harmful Traditional Practices. She impressed on the participants that the AU is committed to the African Renaissance. She noted, “ we need to reinvent ourselves to reinforce the positive cultural values”. She further emphasized the need to look at harmful traditional practices in its entirety and not focus only on FGM as the only harmful practice. She finally emphasized that “The Laws are not the preserves of lawyers alone, if laws are for social change, then it is everybody’s business and the communities and their traditional structures have a role to play” She ended by pronouncing “I celebrate Lawyers and Women’s Rights Activists working to eliminate Harmful Traditional Practices.

Impact of the Conference

This conference is one of the best practices that the African Union has adopted by taking a leadership role. During the deliberations it was reported that AU is committed to the initiative of the Africa Wide Campaign to ban FGM on the continent. The AU Member States are to work closely with organizations working on HTPs to promote women’s human rights. It was also noted that member states have done very well in working towards the elimination of FGM on the continent and progress is being made for remaining states to have laws in place in fulfillment of their obligations for the advancement of gender equality as well as development for women and girls.

During the three day deliberations six plenary sessions were facilitated by various experts and organisations working on HTPS. They made presentations on best practices and models resulting to positive change. The three thematic areas covered during the conference are Human Rights and Legal Protection of Women and Girls with regards to Harmful Traditional Practices, Positive and Negative Cultural Practices and Traditions, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. Three case studies were presented and GAMCOTRAP was invited to present a case study of its best practices that has resulted to the phenomenal changes taking place in the Gambia regarding the elimination of Harmful Traditional Practices and women’s rights.

After the presentations participants were able to discuss, reflect and share best practices. This resulted to the African Union coming up with a report that shows the various efforts made by various countries and institutions to further the promotion of women and children’s human rights. The conference will document existing experiences and efforts made in the elimination of HTPs in the continent.

At the end of the conference the participants of the Pan African Conference Celebrating Courage and Overcoming Harmful Traditions came up with a framework for Action and recommendations on harmful traditional practices. They noted and underscored the following broad thematic priorities for action;

Holistic and Integrated Strategies On Harmful Traditional Practices, Legal and Policy Environment, Women’s Empowerment, Research, Advocacy and Awareness, Media Advocacy, Voices, Cooperation on HTP, Monitoring Progress and Follow Up. For more information please contact the African Union Social Affairs Division website.

In the Gambia progress has been made with regards to the advocacy to end harmful traditional practices and promote women’s health and well being. We are appreciative of the enabling environment that the government of the Gambia has created to enable women’s rights organizations engage is community conversations and dialogues with various target groups. I am glad to report that many communities are changing as a result of the advocacy by various women’s rights organizations such as GAMCOTRAP, BAFROW, APGWA, GFPA among others. Efforts made by women’s rights organizations have resulted to communities taking responsibility to eliminate Harmful traditional practices such as Female genital mutilation, Early/forced marriage and food and nutritional taboos.

GAMCOTRAP advocacy work has resulted to three regions making public declarations to show the public that they are stopping FGM and other harmful traditional practices to protect the reproductive health and rights of women and children in the Gambia. In 2007, 18 Circumcisers and 63 communities made a public declaration to stop FGM. This was the beginning of communities having had the right information to come out publicly and declare themselves on a subject that was shrouded in secrecy and myths.  In 2009 a similar result was experienced in the Upper River and some parts of the Central River Region South where 60 Circumcisers and 351 communities and in 2011 20 circumcisers and 150 communities in the Lower River Region made a public declaration to stop FGM and other harmful traditional practices such as early and forced marriages. This result is achieved because of the culturally relevant approach used by the local initiatives that resonates with the people’s culture and traditions hence the breakthrough. GAMCOTRAP Cluster and Systems approach to eliminate harmful traditional practices has yielded results after many years of advocacy, building trust, confidence and respect for the custodians of such a painful and dangerous practice.

Winning the Campaign was a very rough and sensitive issue for the women’s rights activists but through sustained advocacy and social mobilisation grounded in the lived realities of the people and as victims of the practice we won the hearts and minds of our people, we share the same fate to eliminate the practice that has affected many women and children. The culture of silence and taboo has been broken, the sensitivities have been demystified and the issue is now a public debate where women’s sexualities are discussed to promote their health and well being.

We are also happy to report that the religious dimension is no longer an issue for communities that have had the right information through our trainings and information campaigns countrywide.  While we celebrate we cannot rest on our laurels until this practice is totally eliminated in the Gambia. We are positive that it will happen and it can happen with the trends that are emerging. Currently there are efforts through the Government of the Gambia to come up with a consolidated strategy bringing actors to move the debate further and come up with the right results. This means Gambia is moving towards the achievement of contributing to the attainment of MDG 3-Gender equality and women’s empowerment, MDG 4- Reducing Child Mortality, and MDG 5 – Improved Maternal Health. People are ready to stop FGM when they get the right information and this is happening in the Gambia.

Also, GAMCOTRAP is happy to report that communities who have benefitted from our outreach activities and are aware of the negative effects harmful traditional practices have on the health and well being of women and children. Communities are calling for a law against FGM. As actors in the advocacy against FGM and other harmful traditional practices GAMCOTRAP has taken the onus to draft a specific Bill/Law against FGM for the Government of the Gambia to consider. This draft continues to be discussed at different levels and it has received a lot of comments which are compiled for the relevant body to consider when law is being considered. Currently, 20 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have passed a law against FGM. Only eight countries are remaining and the Gambia is one of them. We are proud to say that the Gambia has signed all the instruments critical to the advancement of Gambian women and children thus achieving formal equality. This process needs to be advanced by translating some of those instruments at the local level to achieve substantive equality for people to make effective use of them.

GAMCOTRAP would like to commend the Government of the Gambia and development Partners in making women’s empowerment a reality moving from rhetoric to Action.

Dr Isatou Touray

Executive Director