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Friday, March 16, 2012


March 15, 2012
Sarjo Camara Singhateh

During the celebration by European Delegation to the Gambia at the Alliance Francais Gambienne, the GAMCOTRAP Programme Coordinator, Amie Bojang-Sissoho , the guest speaker at the International Women’s Day delivered a paper on Female Genital Mutilation in the Context of Women’s Rights in the Gambia.

“It is another important day to bring attention to the situation of women in different parts of the world. We need to reflect upon the lives of rural women and how we inspire girls for a brighter and better future. Women and girls are exposed to many vices that affect their rights as females, one of which is Female Genital Mutilation – FGM. Therefore I would like to bring our attention to the issues of FGM in the context of Women’s Rights in the Gambia,” She stated“
In 2011 alone, using the Cluster Approach, 2,730 men, women and youths participated in 39 activities GAMCOTRAP had conducted, she said. She said thirty-two (32) of these activities were conducted outside the Kanifing Municipality and most of them in remote, rural and semi-urban areas of The Gambia where the prevalence of the practice is high”. She narrated that more importantly, over 80% of them called for a law to protect girls from FGM. “The advocacy for a law has gone far and GAMCOTRAP has been capturing the voices in a Draft proposal for a law against FGM taking into account the recommendations coming from the rural women in particular”. And this document is being drafted and will be submitted to the relevant Government institutions to take it to the next step,” she said. 
GAMCOTRAP Programme Coordinator, Amie Bojang-Sissoho said the Gambia government is saluted for observing this day moreso for ensuring that the Gambia enacts laws to protect Children and Women’s rights. 
“The Children’s Act 2005 and the Women’s Act 2010 are in the right direction to protect and promote the rights of women and girl-children”, Amie said. 
“For twenty-eight years, efforts are being made to understand FGM in the context of women’s rights. One must first of all accept that women have rights and the bodily integrity is one of such rights, which FGM affects. The context of women’s rights starts with the rights of the girl-child and it is the responsibility of the State to protect the rights of its entire citizenry and in this case the rights of women and children from FGM.” She asserted. 
Amie mentioned that there is resistance from some religious leaders who oppose the campaign to raise awareness that FGM is not a Religious obligation and women’s rights issues in general especially, if it is directed at empowerment of women. Some of them she said have influence over the public media, both TV and radio while Women’s Rights organizations fighting against FGM and promoting the rights of women are denied similar opportunities. “Yet most of these people in authority will call for the education of the masses and raising awareness. It should be acknowledged that while educating the people on women’s rights, the public media has an important role to play in providing equal access and opportunities to activists in raising the issues and responding to the debates.” Mrs Sissoho observed that it is through dialogue and debates on social issues that we educate each other on the rights of women and thus influence change of perceptions and attitudes towards women.
She stated that despite the resistance in the public media, direct community outreach has proven to be positive. NGOs have responded to the call to raise the awareness of people and a lot has been done in that area. Mass consciousness has increased about the negative impact FGM has on the sexual and reproductive health rights of women and children. 
“In our community outreach activities, she said, FGM is situated in the context of women’s rights and we raise the consciousness of rural women in particular to realize that:
FGM is a Culture practice and that cultural practices can change when people realize that they outlived their value;
FGM is a not a religious obligation (Farda nor Sunnah) for Muslim Women; FGM affects the Health of Women and Children; FGM Violates the bodily rights and sexuality of women; FGM is Violence against Women and Children and Allah the Creator of the women’s body designed it for a purpose and it should be left intact for such functions”.
“Understanding the dynamics of the decision making processes, GAMCOTRAP takes the Cluster approach in which communities who share cultural ties with the same circumcisers are brought together to reach consensus to protect their girl-children. This approach made it possible for representatives from 564 communities in three regions to support their Circumcisers to stop the practice of FGM.” 
She pointed out that raising consciousness amongst rural women has over the years led to three ‘Dropping of the Knife’ celebrations and the most recent was in 2011 and it took place in the Lower River Region. “To date, GAMCOTRAP has recorded ninety-eight Circumcisers that have dropped their knives and have been supported with grants to engage in alternative livelihood strategies we called Alternative Employment Opportunities - AEO to earn small income instead of cutting girls. They have been recognized for other important roles they play in ensuring social cohesion and development of their communities.” She noted 
GAMCOTRAP Programme Coordinator, Amie Bojang-Sissoho continued to say that, girl-children and women are not completely protected by the laws of the Gambia against FGM; that despite the fact that the Gambia has ratified and domesticated most International and Regional Conventions and Protocols, the legal protection of girls and women from the practice of FGM has been removed from both the Children and Women’s Acts; thus making the ratification of the Protocol to the African Charter in particular irrelevant to the commitments of The Gambia. 
GAMCOTRAP Programme Coordinator, Amie Bojang-Sissoho in her key note address noted that the role of NGOs is to advocate; that it is the responsibility of the Government to ensure that laws and policies are in place and in this case, there is a specific call for a law to ban FGM in the Gambia. There is no need for ambiguity about FGM and hiding it under the general guise of ‘harmful traditional practices’. It should be specific just like early and force marriage or rape has been clearly mentioned in the laws of the Gambia. Not mentioning FGM underrates its importance in the development agenda.
“The challenges in addressing FGM in the context of Women’s Rights are not only denying access to the public media, but even Women’s Human Rights Defenders are being put at risk to silence them. It is time that the government takes stock on how its policies on women and children are being challenged by the very institutions that are supposed to contribute to their effective implementation,” She stated 
“Let me give an example of a recent situation justifying the need for a law against FGM. This year, 44 girls were subjected to FGM in a particular community and two of them bled profusely and ended up in Bansang hospital, the girls suffered. The parents did not want to take the girls to the hospital but when they realized it was not the witches but the loss of blood, they had no choice but to seek help from the hospital,” she said. Amie Bojang-Sissoho noted that when the cases were eventually reported, FGM was not mentioned as the root cause because of fear to be punished by law. It was reported that Malaria was the cause of the anaemia.” Many of such cases make it difficult to get the statistics on the direct immediate impact of FGM on girls. She also said the difficulties of child birth are not immediately recognized by most of the health workers as having something to do with the scars and in some cases keliod caused by FGM.” She stated.
“If the adults of today are to inspire girls in the future, she opined that we have to take responsibility to protect the women of tomorrow, who are the girls of today. The girls of today she said have to be inspired to say no to FGM and defend their rights. Without being pessimistic, let us celebrate the gains made so far and build on them” the GAMCOTRAP Programme Coordinator, Amie Bojang Sisoho concludes.

To read the full article on the FORAYAA website, click here