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Time for the Gambia Government to Enact and Enforce a Law Banning Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

Dec 29, 2015, 10:17 AM | Article By: Andrew Mendy London (United Kingdom)

Following the recent announcement from the office of the President that FGM has been banned in The Gambia, the news was received with widespread approval and relief from all concerned stakeholders in the fight against the practice.

The FGM campaigners across the Gambia and internationally have worked tirelessly in calling for an end to this barbaric practice despite many stumbling blocks, primarily the traditional and cultural link associated with the practice which made practicing societies unwilling to abandon the practice. Their sacrificial efforts have contributed to this new chapter in the fight against FGM. They deserve an honourable commendation for such selfless fight over the past decades.

The Government of The Gambia also deserve to be commended for taking the bold but necessary and long overdue action of banning FGM in The Gambia. It represents a new phase in the drive to end FGM in The Gambia. In as much as the governments declaration is a massive boost in the fight to end FGM, it can also be argued that this new declaration of banning FGM without a parliamentary legislation enacted, can mask the practice and still encourage practitioners to go underground and continue with the practice.Therefore, it is incumbent on the Gambia government to pass legislation to prohibit the practice of all forms of FGM and bring perpetrators to justice.

In order to demonstrate the government’s full commitment to wholly stamp out the practice of FGM, an effectively enforced law should be passed by parliament soon. Failure to do this could leave the sceptics questioning the motives for the announcement of the ban. It could be seen as a political ploy to improve public ratings and support in build-up towards the general elections. I would want to believe this is not the case in this situation as this is a serious matter that needs to be resolved. However, evidence suggests that political leaders sometimes use political campaigns to make pronouncements that are never fully fulfilled as a way of winning public support.

It is not only enough to pass legislation, this legislation must be fully enforced and severe penalties meted out to the law breakers. Without this, it is difficult to envisage an end to the practice. There would still be isolated cases of people secretly carrying out the practice as evident in countries such as the UK, USA, Senegal and other countries where the ban on FGM has been legislated. Yes, it might be difficult to instantly achieve 0% FGM success, nonetheless, a massive decline can be achieved if there is rigid enforced law in place.

Passing the law alone may not be what we need in The Gambia. I would suggest that, passing a law should come side by side with educating the population on the harm FGM causes to the young girls and women of the Gambia. In my master’s dissertation, I researched on the reasons behind FGM the practice of FGM in the Gambia and the medical impact it has on the survivors. In my recommendations, I highlighted the need for educating the public on FGM as way of increasing awareness and discouraging parents from exposing their children to risk associated with the practice. An extract of my dissertation research recommendations can be seen below:

Recommendations for stopping FGM in The Gambia

Evidence from the study shows that, FGM is seen officially as a cultural issue particularly among the practicing communities. Therefore, it is a difficult problem to deal with, as it is deep-rooted and hence sensitive. The solution requires a change of attitude within the practicing communities. However, this cannot be achieved without people having a deep understanding of the problem.

•The way to achieve this in The Gambia is by increase sensitization in the local media, both print and electronic. Furthermore, the government should carry out a nationwide sensitization campaign to raise the awareness about the harm of FGM. This can be decentralised and carried out with the collaboration of the regional councils in The Gambia.

•Secondly, since there are national and international cultural events such as the Roots Homecoming Festival, where all ethnic cultural groups are represented, it should be used as a platform to educate people about FGM and its dangers.

•On the believe that religion particularly Islam allows FGM, this study recommends that in order to deal with this misconception, Islamic scholars and leaders in the Gambia have a big role to play. They should be actively involved in the sensitisation of the dangers of FGM and call for its abolition from their religious pulpits. Since they command great respect in the Gambian society, they can be important in the fight to end FGM in the Gambia. However, they should be provided with training to ensure they have a clear understanding of the harm associated with the practice and at the same time, armed with the right knowledge to pass unto their congregations.

•Lastly, educating the public about FGM, raising more awareness and other forms of advocacy are positive steps in the fight against FGM in The Gambia. However, this alone may not stop the practice. The government of the Gambia should take a leading role in this fight by passing legislation that bans the practice. This law should be effectively enforced and culprits punished accordingly. However, for successful eradication of the practice there has to be meaningful education and dialogue between state institutions and practising communities. Until this happens, it will be a long fight with little hope of success.

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