Today: The Gambia's Daily Newspaper
Mustapha Mbenga, CRR
In a bid to extend the frontiers of their battle against female genital mutilation in The Gambia, Gamcotrap has joined forces with the Women’s Bureau to bring the thorny issue of female circumcision to the attention of military officers in Laminkoto barracks in the north of the Central River Region.
At a two-day training workshop funded by the UNFPA’s country program, fifty participants were sensitized on the issues revolving around the practice in the country and how military officers can join the fight and secure The Gambia from the ills of a practice that leaves many young girls and women physically maimed and psychologically unsettled for life.
In the opening remarks CRR Governor Alhajie Ganjie Touray acknowledged the “good” work by Gamcotrap to improve people’s awareness on FGM and commended its officials for targeting his region for the latest of their countrywide programme of sensitization which he hoped would lead to better practices which could benefit women and girls.
Governor Touray said discouraging FGM was necessary to avoid physical and mental ramifications which have contributed to setting the clock of progress back for many communities in regions across the country where FGM is still observed and practiced. He reasoned that since FGM was not categorically sanctioned by the Quran, it is up to members of the society to decide for or against it. However, he warned that those who insist on practicing it should bear in mind the consequences for victims.
According to Governor Touray, security personnel are necessarily part of this campaign as they belong to families and communities where the practice is regularly observed. He described it as a human rights abuse, calling for military officers whose duty is to defend people to join in the drive to banish the practice from The Gambia and make it safe for women and girls who have an inviolable right to live free of the fear of post-FGM situations. He said the campaign to wrest the country free from FGM practitioners is bound to be long and hard but posited that the presence of Gamcotrap and other human-interest organizations in their midst was clear evidence of the sincerity with which the issues were being addressed. He assured his people that Gamcotrap was there to safeguard the interest of women and children. He explained the rationale behind Gamcotrap’s work, which is intended to foster the health of women and children.
He advised members of his community to seek information about FGM and its rapacious consequences before they take their women and girls under the circumciser’s knife. “There is grave danger in a lack of awareness of the consequences of FGM. This lack of knowledge quite often leads to situations in which victims suffer serious mental and physical consequences, sometimes for a lifetime” Governor Touray starkly added.
The officer commanding the Laminkoto barracks Lieutenant Faburama Njie spoke about the importance of the training targeting soldiers as an important group who could take the fight to their local communities and help change the perception of their relatives who my still hold fast to the practice. He was categorical in his condemnation of FGM, describing it as retrogressive.
Dr. Isatou Touray, the Executive Director of Gamcotrap explained that her organization has been working in The Gambia for over thirty years in order to stop the circumcision of women and girls. According to her, Gamcotrap’s approach is to create awareness of the FGM in areas of the country rarely ventured by anti-FGM activists to with their campaign. She said by conducting highly interactive sessions with soldiers and other members of society, they hope to reach a wide audience whose contribution to combating the phenomenon is an imperative.
“The World Health Organization has realized that FGM normally affects women during child birth…since then Gamcotrap was proposed in The Gambia in 1984 in partnership with the Women's Bureau. FGM is a traditional that is deeply rooted in some cultures, observed in twenty-eight African countries and the middle east” Dr. Touray explained adding that the presence of Governor Touray and a retinue of security officers for the workshop spoke volumes about their commitment to the welfare of the communities the have been mandated to protect.
Amie Bojang-Sissoho, the coordinator of Gamcotrap’s Information Education and Communication program saw FGM as suggesting a fundamental discrimination against a segment of society. She added: “for the purpose of present conventions, the term discrimination against women shall mean any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of impairing or nullifying the recognition of fundamental freedoms in the political, economic social, cultural, civil or any other field”.
Mrs. Bojang-Sissoho said her organization would remain true to its commitment on FGM but admonished soldiers and members of their immediate environs that they should play a part in the campaign to make it a thing of the past.
Omar Dibba, Gamcotrap’s youth project coordinator called for all sectors of society to respect and ensure the rights set forth in international conventions protecting the rights of each children against discrimination and other practices which may be injurious to their mental and psychological wellbeing