By Amat Jeng Alieu Jamanka - Today, The Gambia Quality Newspaper
Communities in the Upper River Region continue to abandon harmful traditional practices, as 24 more Mandinka communities have ‘dropped the knife’ at a ceremony held in Tumana-Kantora, URR.
The event, organized by TOSTAN saw the Sotuma Kantora steering committee of the Tumana-Kantora zone in URR declare that they now realize and understand that some of their traditional practices and customs are inimical to the health and well being of women and girls.
Reading the declaration on behalf of the steering committee, Abdourahman Fatty, a member of the committee, said most of the communities have participated in the joint programme of UNICEF-TOSTAN and The Gambia government’s community empowerment programme.
He said over 20 communities in Basse-Jimara, Tumana and Kantora respectively; including the adopted ones, have united to openly and unconditionally put a stop to FGM and child/forced marriage. This declaration, he added, does not come as a coincidence, but as a result of a comprehensive three year holistic community programme spearheaded by TOSTAN facilitators.
This programme includes social mobilization and sensitization activities by the team, the communities and the Community Management Committee (CMC) members, on issues affecting health and the personal well being of women and girls.
“After evaluating both the positive and negative effects of the practices, often with careful observations, discussion and dialogue with the community members, and local and influential leaders, the 24 communities have decided to openly and willingly declare the abandonment of harmful cultural practices of female genital cutting, and child and forced marriage,” he said.
Speaking further, Fatty acknowledged that TOSTAN’s Community Empowerment Project (CEP) is not only focusing on female genital cutting, but the programme takes a holistic approach to community led sustainable development, covering issues such as democracy, good governance, human rights, problem solving as well as health and hygiene and literacy.
He maintained that the regular cleansing exercise, initiated by the participating communities and their adopted villages, is a step in the right direction which consolidates the initiatives of the President in ensuring that people live in a clean environment.
He also acknowledged the active participation of all stakeholders, whose moral support has contributed to the success of the programmes TOSTAN has been embarking on.
While he said sustainability is the ultimate goal of the project and programmes, he also added that the CMC of Sotuma has had its capacity bolstered by TOSTAN and therefore is committed in sustaining the benefits already derived from the joint project of UNICEF-TOSTAN and GoTG.
He finally called on other CMC, VDCs, CSOs and all other development partners to collaborate in order to ensure that projects and programmes are sustained by themselves after any direct intervention.
In his statement, Bakary Tamba TOSTAN country coordinator, hailed the women of URR for their commitment and passion. He said TOSTAN is employing a bottom-up approach with holistic and polite measures to sensitise the community members whose participation in the programme has ensured its success.
According to Tamba, TOSTAN is not applying any coercive force to make women abandon FGM, but has put forward tangible reasons for their abandonment.
Mawdo Susso, Regional Youth Chairman, spoke about the need to improve livelihoods, especially at the local level. He praised TOSTAN for creating employment for youth in The Gambia and appealed to the Government and UNICEF to continue their support for TOSTAN, as he said the NGO has created employment for the good of young men and women in the region and The Gambia at large. He noted that these employment opportunities are also in line with the objectives of the PRSP.
Mba Sawaneh of Kantora, speaking on behalf of the district head, expressed delight at the unique approach TOSTAN is employing. He cited an example of a prominent circumciser who decided to reject the practice due to the intensive training she received from TOSTAN.
Bolong Sano, the alkalo of Simoto prayed for the sustainability of the project. He described TOSTAN as an integral part of their livelihoods.
Hulay Bah, an ex-prominent circumciser condemned the practice of FGM/C, early/forced marriage. She said ever since she was a mature girl she had been practicing FGM but thanks to the timely intervention of TOSTAN and its partners, which she said had made her aware of the drawbacks of the practice, she decided to cease and desist from doing it.