As part of their efforts towards protecting the human rights of women and girls in the Gambia and URR in particular, over one hundred and seventeen communities in the region have on the 12th of June 2011 pledged to abandon the cultural and traditional practices of FGC, early and forced marriage at a public declaration ceremony held at Basse Mini station. These communities included the adopted villages that participated in the Tostan, UNICEF and the Gambia Government joint project. The ceremony was attended by hundreds of participants, including representatives from the government of the Gambia, neighbouring republic of Senegal, Unicef, civil society organizations, local authorities, traditional communicators, cultural troops, community members and the media.
In his welcoming remarks on behalf of the chief of Basse, Alhagie Ebriama Krubally welcomed the participants to what he described as a unique event in the history of the Gambia. He commended Tostan for their support in ensuring the expansion of the project to other regions in the country.
The VDC Chairman of Basse, Jewru Oldpa Krubally, also echoed similar remarks for his part as the chairman of the steering committee.
Mr. Alagie F. Jallow said the day is a historic one as the participating communities have registered their achievements and positive social transformations. He said over one hundred and seventeen communities in Basse, Jimara, Tumana, Kantora, Wuli and Sandu districts, including the adopted communities, have come together to openly declare their abandonment of female genital cutting, early and forceful marriage in URR.
He said this historic moment came about after the participating communities have undergone an intensive three year holistic community empowerment programme led by facilitators through social mobilisation and sensitisation activities by the team, CMC members and the communities. He said the training was centred around issues affecting the health and well being of women and girls as violations of fundamental human rights as enshrined in the Universals Declaration of Human Rights, Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights amongst others to which the Gambia is a signatory.
He said these human rights are also part of the Kobi one modules of the Tostan Community Empowerment Programme (CEP). He said the CEP is not only focusing on harmful traditional practices but a holistic approach to community led sustainable development covering themes on democracy and good governance, human rights and responsibilities, problem solving process, health and hygiene, literacy and management skills as well as feasibility study and introduction to small micro project implementation.
Mr. Jallow thanked the Women's Bureau, the URR Governor's office, TAC members, MDFT's Wards and women councilors for their active support and collaboration. He also thanked Unicef for providing the funding towards the realisation of the aims and objectives of the joint project in URR.
Speaking on behalf of the Vice President and Minister of Women's Affairs, Mr. Ello Jallow said the declaration is an important milestone in the history of the Tostan, Unicef and Gambia government joint project in URR.
The Vice President recalled that in 2006, Unicef-Tostan and the government through the Women's Burean started the community empowerment program with the objectives of bringing about positive social change based on holistic programmatic approach to development by empowering women and girls in the rural Gambia that is traditionally dominated by patricidal values.
She said community empowerment and participation in the Tostan program provides them with the knowledge and opportunity to break gender barriers and take active leadership roles.
The Vice President said the Tostan intervention fosters dialogue in which men and women of all ages contribute equally to the socio economic development and advancement of all.
The Vice President said the promotion of human rights and responsibilities for women and girls are at the core of the 1997 Second Republic Constitution of the Gambia and the fundamental human rights provisions and that the constitutional provisions are informed by the principles enshrined in the CEDAW Convention, adding that the Gambia has ratified this as far back as 1992.
She said the Gambia government recognised gender equality and women empowerment as key factors for the attainment of socio- economic development.
"In order to achieve the 3rd goal of MDG and the 12 critical areas of concern of the Beijing plat form for action, the Ministry of the Womens' Affairs and Women's Bureau have developed the Gender and Women Empowerment Policy 2010-2020" said the Vice President.
She said in February 2010 Tostan came out with the best and standard approach in community empowerment, especially in the education of harmful traditional practices during the forum organised by the Policy Analysis Unit of the Office of the President.
The declaration, she said, is therefore a clear manifestation of Tostan's standard and best approach.
She thanked Unicef for funding the protect and the partners for implementing the programme in URR.
In his remarks, the Unicef Child Protection Specialist, Mr. Salifu Jassey said the community led sustainable development project aims to educate and empower communities to become more resourceful and to take ownership of and make informed decisions about their social and economic development. He said the project is first and foremost about community development that is led by the community and outsiders.
He said the curriculum of program included themes on democracy and good governance, human rights and responsibilities, problem solving, hygiene and health, literacy and management skills.
Mr. Jassey disclosed that specific issues were covered which included timely vaccination, birth registration, women's participation and leadership, early and forced marriages, domestic violence and female genital cutting.
He said the programme used innovative and participatory methods based on African oral traditions such as stories, poetry, dialogue, personal narrative, theater and songs.
According to Mr. Jassey, five years on the impact of the project has been demonstrative especially in terms of behavioral change and positive practices.
He said the participants have good knowledge of human rights, democracy, health, nutrition and hygiene practices. "Armed with knowledge, tools and more empowered, communities pro-actively decided to abandon harmful practices such as FGC and early marriage and make the declaration publicly", he said.
He added that through innovative ways they shared their knowledge with neighbours and friends who were not part of the program and encouraged them to join the movement. These people, according to the Unicef Child Protection Specialist, are on the right track to attaining equity and alleviating poverty.
This public declaration, according to Mr. Jassey, is the culmination of four separate mini declarations, the last of which, he said, was held at Sare Ngai in January 2011. He said it is very encouraging to see another 25 communities being empowered by the 80 resilient communities to join the campaign. These communities, he said, will show thousands of people around the Gambia and beyond that it is more cost effective and very possible to live a life free of deep-rooted harmful cultural practices like FGM/C and early and force marriage.
He Director of NGO Affairs, Mr. Lamin Dibba also commended the communities and their adopted ones for their bold decision and urged the government and Unicef to ensure the expansion of the project to other regions beyond URR. This, according to Mr. Dibba, will complement the efforts of the government in national development.
The governor of URR, Alhagie Omar Khan, for his part, thanked Unicef, Women's Bureau and Tostan for empowering women and children in his region.
The declaration statement was delivered by Madusi Boye, Satang Drammeh and Mariama Sellu Jallow, in the English, Mandinka and Fula languages respectively.