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One Day Sensitization Programme on Traditional, Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights Kick Off

Aug 8, 2008, 9:02 AM | Article By: By Sarata J-Dibba

As part of Gamcotrap's continued efforts to promote and protect children's rights, a one day sensitization programme on traditional practices, sexual and reproductive health rights was organized for thirty five Alkalolu and their Chiefs from the kombos. The programme that was organized in partnership with save the children Sweden regional office based in Dakar, Senegal was facilitated through the office of the Governor of the Western region as a strategic entry point to reach the traditional rulers who are the custodian of traditional practices in the Gambia.

During the workshop recently at paradise suite hotel the Paramount Chief, Alhagie Demba Sanyang who is also the head Chief expressed gratitude to be part of this important programme since it is about issues dealing with the health of women and children.

In his keynote speech the Governor of Western region, Mr. Lamin Sanneh noted that it was indeed a great pleasure and honour to be accorded with the privilege to make the opening statement on the auspicious training of local government authorities on traditional practices, sexual and reproductive health and rights. "Children and women are the most important productive element of the economy therefore they deserve the protection of the state and its apparatus, local government authorities and society at large", he emphasized. Different sessions were dealt, on session one it was about their expectations for the workshop, this session dwelt on capturing the expectations of the Chiefs and Alkalolu. Their expectations were focused on the need to gain more information and knowledge about children's rights, and issues on female genital mutilation. Some touched on learning the future direction on women and children's right. Most of them argued that the current debates about children's rights are not clear to them and they hope that the workshop will give them the opportunity to learn more about the issues and what their role is. This discussion also centered on the importance that Gamcotrap attaches to working with traditional structures especially the Chiefs and the Alkalolu in the pursuit to the realization of its aims and objectives.

Session two was on child rights and principles, this presentation looked at the definition of what rights are and how people perceive the whole issue of children's rights. The discussion touched on the needs of children and how the fulfillment of these needs relate to basic and indivisible rights of all children. The presentation also looked at the issue of protection as a fundamental aspect of children's rights. Some of the critical issues raised included protection from harmful traditional practices i.e. FGM and early marriages, other issue highlighted include sexual abuse and exploitation of children.

On the comments, the Chiefs noted that the programme should be further strengthened to reach out to more people; they also acknowledged learning the truth and will offer their full support in the process. On his comment the Kartong Alkali said "the advocacy of Gamcotrap is difficult with challenges but there is hope for success", he pledged the support of the Alkalolu on any resolution on children's rights.

On the third session that was about Isam and religion was presented by Imam Baba Leigh and Muhammad Sanuwo, these two religious Scholars, talked about the religious perspective of culture and practices. They touched on the historical perspective of female genital mutilation and the point of contestation surrounding the practices of FGM.

The presentation also highlighted some religious misinterpretations and preaching by some religious Scholars who continue to have access to the media zith their pro FGM

propaganda. They gave a crystal clear religious explanation about male circumcision and female circumcision and concluded that there is no where it is prescribed for women in any divine religious text. After this session it was observed in their comments that the information they receive on the public radio is contrary to what they have heard in the workshop. They noted that the information from the workshop is correct and every citizen should have the right information to make the right choice for their children. They observed that the government should give access to organizations with the right information to promote positive development and enlighten the population using the radio. In the light of these observations the following suggestions were made:

v           Religious leaders should come out and discuss the issues and the truth for people to get the right information.

v           People have to look at those who talk on the media and who mandated them to talk on the Radio as pro FGM campaigners and that should be stopped.

v           They highlighted the need for Gamcotrap to have access to the radio and discuss the issues of concern to the general public and they promised to look into the matter.

On session four: Components of reproductive health.

This session reported on the current situation regarding reproductive health and rights of women and children. It highlighted the increase in sexually transmitted diseases and the number of children affected. Participants were taken through the nine components of reproductive health which highlighted some very common household problems in relation to reproduction and the need to maintain and protect the health of women and children. Some of these include proper family planning procedures and safe motherhood practices to ensure the protection and maintenance of the health of women and children.

On session five: role of community leaders.

This was one of the most powerful sessions which evoked the sensitivities of the traditional decision makers and their role in various communities. For the Chiefs they cover a large jurisdiction in which several village heads exist. They lamented on the effects of lack of knowledge and the misconceptions which have been cleared by attending the workshop. Each of them made comments and the following represents the general ethos towards the fights against FGM and promoting children's rights.

v           To ensure that a law against FGM is put in place so as to help the Chiefs and Alkalolu effectively engage with the people. This will help the elimination of harmful traditional practices.

v           To also engage and strengthen the capacity of the village development committees, in order to strengthen the advocacy at the community levels.

v           The paramount Chief of the Gambia pronounced joining Gamcotrap and offered to support in the advocacy to eradication of FGM.

v           All Chiefs and Alkalolu present at the workshop agreed to work together and protect the children. "Therefore we need one voice and come together to eradicate the practices.

v           Gamcotrap should conduct similar programme with all the chiefs in the Gambia with their national assembly members in order to make more declarations against harmful traditional practices.

v           The children's act and the women's bill should now be reinforced and this should

      be advocated for.

Chief of Kombo Central Dembo Santang Bojang, in giving the vote of thanks commended Gamcotrap for providing knowledge to the community leaders in the midst of ignorance about the practices of FGM. As enlightened leaders they will engage with the people and the women to ensure that the practices stop.

For her part Aja Nyimansata Sanneh Gamcotrap board member also thanked the staff of Gamcotrap and community leaders through the paramount chief and the governor of western region. She noted that the empowerment of women cannot be truly realized without the attainment of good health for Gambian women and children. "Government is aware of the advocacy work to eradicate FGM. As community leaders {Chiefs and Alkalolu} they are aware of the cultural issues in the societies and with their support, the practice can be eradicated". She urged the leaders to mobilize their communities and spread the knowledge gained.


Thank very much for your kind attention.