Apr 17, 2009, 7:45 AM
Alhaji Omar Sompo Ceesay, Governor of the Upper River Region, has said the Gambia government under “the able leadership of President Yahya Jammeh is committed to the protection and the well-being” of girls and women.
He made this remark while presiding over a mini-declaration of fourteen communities who pledged to abandon the practices of FGC – female genital cutting – as well as early and forced marriage, at a ceremony held in Sareh Jamu Mballow village in the Wuli East district of the Upper River Region.
Governor Ceesay hailed Tostan-UNICEF community empowerment programme for bringing about “positive changes” in the lives of local people, and called for expansion of the programme to other regions.
Ms Neneh Touray, on behalf of the executive director of the Women’s Bureau, hailed the communities for voluntarily declaring the abandonment of the practice of FGC, and early and forced marriage in the region.
She reminded the gathering that there are punishments attached to carrying out the practice, and urged the communities to adhere to what they openly declared.
Ms Mariama Mballow, a member of one of the communities, said the declaration came following a series of sensitisation programmes on human rights and responsibilities, democracy, problem-solving, health and hygiene modules; which led to the historic declaration.
“Our historic decision aims to reinforce the national movement for the promotion of human rights in The Gambia, Africa and the world at large based on the community initiative originated from Tostan’s Community Empowerment Programme, supported by UNICEF Banjul office.”
Since 2006, she added, communities were engaged in a series of capacity enhancement and sensitisations led by community management committees and social mobilisation agents to empower communities to lead their own development processes.
Ms Mballow called on other communities in the URR and the rest of the country to join the movement, while expressing gratitude to the Gambia government and their development partners, especially UNICEF, for their ceaseless support.
Also speaking on the occasion was Ms Binta Mballow, the chairperson of the steering committee, who said harmful traditional practices are a violation of fundamental human rights and the dignity for all, especially women and girls.
“Today we are witnessing another important milestone as a testimony of the achievements registered by our communities, most of whom have participated in the community empowerment programme jointly implemented by Tostan-UNICEF and the Government of The Gambia in about 150 communities in URR.”
She further stated that after evaluating effects of the practices, often with careful observation, discussion and dialogue with community members and local and influential leaders, the fourteen communities have decided to abandon harmful cultural practices, such as female genital cutting, child and forced marriage.
“FGC is a violation of fundamental human rights as enshrined in the universal declaration of human rights, convention on the right of the child, convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and Africa Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, among a host of modules facilitated by Tostan facilitators.”
Ousman Mballow, VDC chairman of Sareh Jamu Mballow, underscored the importance attached to Tostan, declaring that the NGO had demonstrated keen interest towards the improvement of The Gambia and the livelihood of village communities.
Ajaratou Sona Kandeh applauded Tostan for the initiative, while assuring the organisation that “henceforth these communities have dropped the knife”.
The ceremony was characterised by traditional performances, with an interlude of drama presentations depicting the dangers associated with FGC, and forced and early marriage.