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The Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices affecting The Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP) has extended its campaign against female genital mutilation and other harmful traditional practices which endanger the lives of women and girls to the members of The Gambia National Assembly.
In its latest engagement, GAMCOTRAP wants the understanding of the legislators for the need to institute laws that prohibit FGM practice and safeguard the dignity of the person of the human body.
Speaking at the opening of the consultation with parliamentarians, the executive director of GAMCOTRAP, Dr. Isatou Touray noted the importance of the consultation, which she noted is the third of a series towards the elimination of FGM in The Gambia.
According to her, some parliamentarians have participated in previous sensitization programmes which were also expository of the health effects of FGM. She said that there is no dearth of information concerning the international, national and regional conventions which GAMCOTRAP and other women’s right organization are engaging to create awareness on the effects of FGM.
She noted that the consultation with the parliamentarians marked another important day in a series of consultations that have been ongoing at community levels where some of the National Assembly members were present. “I am happy to say that most of the community interventions that have been going on at the country level have been with the effective participation of the National Assembly members,” she said.
She noted that the programme was strategically targeted at the National Assembly select committees on women and children and on health, since the issues tabled for discussion concerned the health, rights and the bodily dignity and integrity of the woman and the girl child. “I believe the consultation would consolidate the series of consultations that have been going on women’s right issues, particularly in the area of gender-based violence and FGM, to be able to help particularly the select committees to be strategic advocates in the parliament.”
According to her, as women rights organization that takes the lead in promoting women’s and children’s right, they have in collaboration with other strategic partners like the Women’s Bureau, Female Lawyers Association of The Gambia and some religious scholars been setting the stage for a legislation that would protect women and girl children from FGM and other associated practices.
“We have worked with lots of you and this is just a continuation of the recommendation coming out of those programmes saying that we should work strategically with the selected committee on women and child and on health.”
She recalled that a Gambian delegation comprising legislators attended a May 2010 regional ceremony of the United Nations ban of FGM held in Dakar Senegal which had in attendance representatives from 28 African countries. Out of these, 19 countries have already passed a law on FGM.
“The Gambia is not doing badly because we were able to report all the works that have been going on and the efforts put together. The remaining is to fulfill all those obligations by crowning it with a law. A law is not a question of helping women but a fundamental right and a duty to ensure that it is in place to protect women and girls from the harmful traditional practices. Therefore, it is about fulfilling the commitments made at the international, national and regional level and also at the country level as speculated in the constitution of The Gambia; that is why we are working with the selected committees.”
She further said that best practices have been established in other countries and The Gambia is not reinventing the wheel, but adopt what is positive for all, as she further noted protecting women and girl children is important as they are active participants in national development. “Therefore you all have a duty as National Assembly members towards promoting women’s human right.”
“This proposed bill is a proposed bill because as primary stakeholders, we have a duty to take the lead in pushing the agenda forward but we are not taking responsibility because it is not our duty. Our duty as an NGO is to take the lead in bringing things together and passing it on to the right channel for it to be realized and that is why GAMCOTRAP brings in the selected committees on women, girls and health to be on the same level of understanding and awareness regarding the matter at hand, for us to be able to push the agenda so that you will be able to pass the bill when it comes to FGM.”
Delivering his statement, Hon. Momodou Touray, chairman for the National Assembly select committee on women and children said the only way forward to eradicate FGM is through sensitization, because if people are sensitized, they would be aware and this would lead to the achievement of aims and objectives. “Let GAMCOTRAP sensitize everybody in The Gambia and make them understand the danger and health hazard about FGM practices,” he said.
He also urged his colleagues ensure that they also sensitise the people of their constituencies on the need for action against FGM. “We all know that it is a deep rooted culture because we cannot say that it is religious, to uproot it will not be easy. We can only do it by approaching our people politely, patiently accept whatever they are going to tell us so that we can convince them in the final analysis to put a law against FGM.”
According to Hon. Saikouna Sanneh, many countries have already put a law in place against FGM. He said it is the duty of the National Assembly to defend the interest of women of the country. “On the 29th September 2008, at the Kairaba Conference Hall, there was a declaration that we made in the interest of women of this country,” he said.
GAMCOTRAP has set up elaborate advocacy and sensitization programmes to promote the sexual and reproductive health of the women and the girl child. In line with his action plan, it has also sensitized several communities including the men, women, boys, girls, religious leaders, Alkalos and chiefs across the country, and there has been considerable attitudinal change, according to the NGO.