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Anti-FGM Day: Activists say more than just the law needed to end FGM

Feb 6, 2017, 11:37 AM | Article By: Adam Jobe

Isatou Jeng was never told why she was taken under the knife but as she grows to maturity, to womanhood, she realised that she is without a clitoris.

“When I realised that my clitoris was missing, the only explanation I got was ‘we did it to purify and protect you as a woman’,” she said as she narrated her story of being a survivor of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

The young woman said the trauma of going through FGM multiplies when she needs the missing organs the most but not available to perform its functions.

The story of Isatou is not an isolated case. According to a 2013 report, an estimated 76.3 per cent of girls and women have been subjected to FGM and are living with its trauma and physical consequences.

This statistics, though among the highest in Africa, is a result of more than 30 years of campaign of demystifying FGM and delinking it to Islam. 

The initial sign of the success of the campaign was not visible in terms of numbers but by making FGM a household topic of discussion; initially it was a taboo that no one dares talk about or challenge.

But the campaigners, undeterred and undiscouraged by the modest statistical achievement, continued the advocacy until eventually, they got the political commitment of the government of Yahya Jammeh, the former president.

Barely two months after Jammeh’s declaration to abandon FGM, the National Assembly in December 2015 promulgated a law ‘to prohibit female circumcision due to the proven harmful nature of the practice’.

The legislation has created an enabling environment for the advocates to take an active role in protecting women and girls and increased community awareness of FGM’s harmful impacts.

But as the world celebrates the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM today, Monday, anti-FGM activists in The Gambia said the new government should do more, not just be complacent with the fact there is already a law against the practice in the country.

Activist said the passage of the law was the beginning of the Gambia’s commitment to have zero tolerance to the practice.

Njundu Drammeh, coordinator of Child Protection Alliance (CPA), said enforcing the law is what is needed now; the new government should make sure that the law is fully enforced to make it meaningful.

Advocates, he said, should also continue to popularise the law by sensitising people of its existence particularly on days like the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM.

He said anti-FGM stakeholders should continue to work together to disabuse the minds of the parents and communities by helping them to unlearn all the things associated to it.

Mr Drammeh also pointed out that circumcisers should be economically supported so they are able to stop the practice.

From 2007 to 2013, a total of 128 circumcisers from 900 communities have abandoned the knife, decisions that were all publicly declared in ‘Dropping of the Knife’ celebrations courtesy of Gamcotrap, a local women’s rights NGO.

These women do not just have prestige on circumcision but also money.  Mr Drammeh said sensitising them to drop the knife is not enough they need to know have an alternative source of livelihood.

FGM board needed

Lisa Camara, coordinator of Safe Hands for Girls, said the new government should put in place more policies, and set up an FGM board that will oversee the enforcement of the law and the implementation of the policies so as to make The Gambia FGM free.

She said a lot of people in the country, especially in the provinces, do not know who to report to, and how to report issues of FGM.

Ms Camara said Safe Hands for Girls, through the help of The Guardian, would continue working with the media to amplifying voices on FGM.

She said her organisation would celebrate the international anti-FGM day next month using art and music to send out FGM messages that could be communicated.

Safe Hands continue to embark on ways and means of sensitising people about FGM because for them, using the law to punish the people is a non-starter.

“The more information, the less we come across FGM cases,” Ms Camara said.

For Fatoumata Touray of the Gambia Committee of Traditional Practices (GAMCOTRAP), there should be vigilante groups set up in the communities to monitor those communities that are still practicing FGM.

“These groups will be capacitised to serve as FGM watchdogs for civil society organisations,” she said. 

“They will raise the alarm whenever a particular community is about to practice FGM so that early intervention can be done to safe the lives of the innocent girls instead of just punishing the perpetrators after the damage is done on girls already.”

As Isatou, the FGM survivor, is now a matured lady, she has joined the campaign against FGM so that she can help make sure that innocent girls are speared of the trauma she is living with as a result of FGM.

“I am also calling on the government of President Adama Barrow to show more commitment by making FGM a top priority in its drive to promote and protect the rights and welfare of women,” she said.