July 2, 2010
by Today, The Gambia's Quality Newspaper
The Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices affecting The Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP) has reached out to Firdawsi and Kunno Ngunta clusters in Niani District of the Central River Region on the campaign to stop FGM and to promote instead the rights of women and children.
Representatives of thirty-eight communities in Niani district have thus pledged to stop Female Genital Mutilation. These pronouncements were made at a series of community sensitization activities held in Firdawsi and Kunno Ngunta clusters in the North of the Central River Region. GAMCOTRAP funded by Danida through the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices - IAC targeted women leaders and women of reproductive age, Alkalolu, Imams, Council of Elders and Youth leaders in the clusters. The community sensitization activities aimed at creating awareness on Female Genital Mutilation- FGM, amongst other sexual and reproductive health and rights issues affecting women and girls such as early and forced marriages, inheritance, and other forms of gender based violence.
In his statement at the Firdawsi cluster sensitization meeting, the Chief of Niani District, Pierre Bah said his support to GAMCOTRAP is based on the organization's efforts in promoting health which he perceived as beneficial to the people of Niani.
According to Chief Pierre Bah, the commitment in Niani is demonstrated by the participation of the community leaders and support from the Region's authorities.
He further noted that while they promote culture, they would discourage harmful traditional practices such as FGM because the records at their local health facilities give indications that many women of reproductive age are admitted because to child birth related problems, which are associated to harmful traditional practices i.e. FGM and early marriage.
The chief was optimistic that change would happen. He also gave feedback on an earlier training held in Wassu cluster, where he reported that over 60 percent of the people agreed to stop FGM.
In a consultation meeting with council of elders from the cluster, the grand marabout of Firdawsi, Sering Momodou Lamin Nyang gave his blessing to the training and pledged to follow up on the communities to stop FGM, which he pointed out is not an obligation in Islam nor a Sunna for women to practice.
A health worker in Firdawsi Health facility, Alhajie Yoro Bah informed the participants that 95 percent of the referral cases to Kuntaur Health Centre are linked to effects of FGM on women during child birth. Several participants testified to stop FGM and other harmful traditional practices affecting the health of women and children.
At Kunno Ngunta cluster, Alhajie Buba Jallow, a member of the council of elders, commended GAMCOTRAP for raising awareness in the communities.
The member of Parliament for Niani, Honourable Ebrima Manneh informed participants about the advocacy for a law to protect girls from FGM and that such awareness creation activities would give people the opportunity to understand the effects FGM has on women and come to consensus before a law is in place. Honorable Manneh also called on the participants to share the information with others in their communities.
He also informed his constituency people that GAMCOTRAP have sensitized them as parliamentarians and they are aware of the harm FGM does to women and girl-children.
The executive director of GAMCOTRAP, Dr. Isatou Touray noted that FGM, early marriage and other forms of gender based violence undermine the dignity of women and impact on their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Dr. Touray dilated on the other issues GAMCOTPAP works on in the promotion of women's human rights and awareness raising. She argued that parents have to be well informed to protect the next generation of girls from FGM, as well as respect the rights of women and children.
She further called on the women to join together and fight their cause, asserting that a law against FGM is important to protect children and that all efforts are being made to engage parliamentarians to take responsibility to protect girls and women. She also acknowledged the willingness of the Niani parliamentarian, Hon. Ebrima Manneh for taking interest in the sensitization on FGM and other issues affecting the rights of women and children in his constituency.
Dr. Touray finally called on parents to instill discipline in their children, engage in family dialogue with children to avert unwanted teenage pregnancy and to give opportunity for girls to complete their education before marriage.
Oustass Muhammad Sanuwo and Abubacarr Kanteh both emphasized that FGM is not an obligation in Islam. It was pointed out that it is not a Sunna nor a means of cleanliness in Islam but the practice changes Allah's creation. They enlightened the participants on the misinterpretations associated to Islam regarding women's issues and the responsibilities of men towards their families. It was reiterated that men should allow girls to complete their education before venturing into marriage. In his intervention, the Imam of Kunno Ngunta village, Ismaila Dem who also led the opening prayers asserted that FGM cannot be an honour if it causes harm to women and children.
In both Firdawsi and Kunno Ngunta, women expressed delight in having the sensitization in their area and declared that they would stop FGM. Some gave testimonies of women and children who suffered from the practices out of ignorance.