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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Gambian MP Calls for a Referendum on FGM

October 26, 2010
Abdoulie John

Gambian National Assembly Member Hon. Bora B. Mass of Kiang East Constituency has called for a nationwide referendum on the eradication of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
Honorable Mass believes this will help to address the issues around one of the country’s deeply rooted harmful traditional practices. 

The National Assembly member told JollofNews that it is high time a referendum was organized in order to settle a debate that is dividing Gambians. “Some people are against the practice, but are afraid to voice it out. Only a referendum can help to settle the matter for the betterment of the Gambian people,” he said.
This pronouncement came in the wake of a consultation initiated by the Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices affecting the Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP), an organization that has been leading the fight against FGM since 1984. The goal of the consultation is to facilitate the process for the promulgation and subsequent enactment of a law against FGM in the Gambia as enshrined in all the relevant international, regional and national instruments that the country has ratified. This process will contribute to the eradication of harmful traditional practices that affect the health, wellbeing and rights of women and children, FGM in particular.

For Honorable Bora B. Mass, APRC Member of Parliament, if the “Yes” emerge victorious during the process, it will be a collective idea indicating that the majority of Gambians are against the practice. “A referendum is highly needed to provide legitimacy to any attempt geared towards the banning of FGM,” he said.

This is not the first time that GAMCOTRAP is campaigning for a law reform to ban FGM. Series of activities have been initiated in the past, and are yet to make a significant impact on the position of
the country’s lawmakers, vis-à-vis FGM. The Declaration made in September, 2008, by parliamentarians, calling for a law against the practice is an illustration of this.

According to GAMCOTRAP, the practice is affecting 60 to 80% of women and girls in The Gambia, and that most of the time the justification is based in the Islamic religion or the
Mohammedan tradition.

Arguing that the practice has nothing to do with Islam, Baba Ley, a Muslim cleric who is well known for his long-standing opposition against FGM, said: “Due to the ignorance of our religion, and the sentiments we have for our tribal beliefs, some people have still a conservative stance on this issue.”

Imam Ley pointed to the fact that those who advocate practicing FGM are with the view that a circumcised woman can control her sexuality. But, he said, “God created sex as a gift and wants each and every one of us to like it, to love it, and to enjoy it. Sex is the backbone of marriage. The Holy Quran is asking Muslims to respect it.”

The outspoken Imam denied the fact that FGM is part of the Mohammedan tradition and challenged any Islamic scholar to prove the contrary.

“FGM is a deeply rooted culture, and has been wrongfully related to the tradition of the Prophet of Islam. That is to say that an important issue like this, if it was practiced by any family member of the Prophet, should have been mentioned in the Holy Book,” he argued.

The Gambia was among one the first 25 nations to have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). It has also ratified the African Charter on the Rights of Women and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC), as well as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Each of these instruments made reference to traditional and cultural practices that are prejudicial to the status of children and women. Despite the fact that GAMCOTRAP has made tremendous achievements during these past years in putting the debate at the centre stage of the development agenda, the practice persists in some communities. An electoral consultation as anticipated by a Member of Parliament will certainly help to pave the way forward.