21 May 2012

Gambia: Cultural Protagonist Supports Eradication of FGM in CRR

Photo: Filmakers Library
FGM is typically carried out on girls from a few days old to puberty. (file photo)

The power of information using the local languages to change perceptions and attitudes continues to give prominence to the work of the Gamcotrap in the Central River Region. Under the auspices and support of the UNFPA joint programme, 25 community-based facilitators from the Central River Region north benefited from a three-day capacity building workshop to engage in community sensitization and mobilization to protect girls from Female Genital Mutilation.

Accompanied by two other females from the council of elders from Janjanbureh at the opening ceremony, held at the Regional Education Office, cultural protagonist, Aja Babung Sidibehacknowledged the importance of knowledge in changing people's perceptions and practices.She noted that dialogue raises consciousness to overcome many difficulties.

Aja Babung said "the bangle in your hand should not break your head", and called on all to spread the information to protect children and women."We were blind but today we can raise consciousness to save women and children.Both the young and old face the difficulties," she stated.

Having been exposed to effects of FGM during the capacity building of the community-based facilitators, the longstanding and well known cultural protagonist changed her perception after witnessing the serious effects FGM has on women and girls. She noted that even though she had heard about the campaign, she was never exposed to the harm FGM causes to women.

Hailed from the Sidibeh family in Janjangbureh that is the custodian of both male circumcision and female genital mutilation, Aja Babung Sidibeh has led, organized and maintained the practice that is conducted every five years.

She explains: "When one is ignorant, you cannot act otherwise. I feel touched by the effects.I am the 'Ngansingba' and custodian of the female circumcision chamber here. Our culture is celebrated every five years; we have FGM in this community and even our children in the diaspora know when it is time for the cultural practice. They will come and spend time at 'Tinyang sita'.

Throughout my life, I have sympathy for women and children so from today, I will consult with my council of elders to stop the difficulty women and children face with this practice. My daughter is a nurse and she helps women to deliver. One day she told me 'Aja, the practice of FGM and the sealing causes difficulty for us (nurses) because women suffer when giving birth. Even though I heard what she said it is only having seen these pictures today that I am totally convinced. I am really touched."

The Supreme Islamic Council representative in Janjanbureh, Oustass Momodou Lamin Jobarteh led the gathering into prayer and took the opportunity to call on Gamcotrap toaccommodate the criticisms and to be steadfast to achieve its goal, because it is not easy to impart knowledge on to others. He cited a verse from the Holy Quran that says 'Those who are knowledgeable are different from those who are not.'He also called on the participants to make the best out.

Oustass Jobarteh re-echoed that health is an important aspect of life and there is the need to seek knowledge about it.He prayed that Allah blesses the occasion and fulfil the objective of the gathering.

Commenting on the law to protect women and children at the gathering,the National Assembly member for Upper Saloum, Honourable Sainey Mbye expressed optimismthatthe advocacy for aspecific bill against FGM has advanced and will eventually be presented to the National Assembly for legislation to stop the practice in the country.

He noted that the delay is to give people the opportunity to be aware of the impact of the practice so that the law will not come as a force on people but for people to be aware and for it to be voluntarily stopped.He cautioned that some elders hold onto the tradition but the knowledge is for the young ones and mothers to benefit from.

The Women's Bureau Field coordinator in CRR, Amadou Cham, acknowledged the positive role Gamcotrap played in supplementing the role of the Bureau to raise consciousness. He noted that the impact of Gamcotrap's work was captured in the evaluation of its work; which led to the organization being identified as implementing partner for the UNFPA Country Programme 2012.

He congratulated the organization and noted that despite the challenges in changing attitudes, change is taking place. He finally urged the participants to make the best out of the training and look forward to a fruitful outcome.

Declaring the training open, Governor Ganyie Touray of CRR, said he is delighted to associate with the training, because according to him the country's leadership supports women. He noted that the conducive political environment has made it possible for Gamcotrap to continue to succeed in its work and noted that people are responding positively.He was impressed with the support from local influential leaders in the region in the protection of girls and women from the practice of FGM.

Local traditional communicator, Lamin Keita, alias Takka Titi and his group of women in Janjanbureh welcomed Gamcotrap amidst singing and dancing. Amongst them was a mother of a child who recently suffered the effects of FGM and now joins the advocacy to protect girls from FGM.

The executive director of Gamcotrap, on evaluating the first leg of sensitization under the UNFPA Country Programme, described it as a success. She commended the community-based facilitators for taking leadership in their communities and a successful outreach programme; and urged her staffto redouble their effortsin ensuring that communities reach consensus to stop FGM.

She is optimistic that working with the circumcisers and their communities and with the continued support of the community and religious leaders, it is likely that Central River Region north will be the next region to drop the knife.

Dr. Touray noted that despite the challenges, more people are responding to the campaign to stop FGM in The Gambia. She thanked the UNFPA for recognising the role of her organisation and upgrading its role from sub-contractee under the Women's Bureau to an Implementing Partner (IP).

Scholars' activities

Meanwhile, Gamcotrap Religious adviser, Imam Baba Leigh has led a series of sensitisation programmes with rich discussions that reached out to 150 participants in Sami Kunting, Bakadajie Mandinka in Niani and Buduk in Nianija, the CRR north.

The outcome confirmed that FGM is not mentioned in the Holy Quran nor is it a Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH). It was acknowledged as a longstanding traditional practice and it was recommended that the awareness raising programmes should continue.

One religious leader from Kunting, Alhajie Kawsu Jaiteh called on the people to work within the limits of their knowledge.He made this remark in the presence of representatives from 11 villages from the area.

Similarly, religious leaders and imams from 14 villages within the Bakadagie Mandinka cluster in Niani also echoed that FGM is not a religious obligation.It was noted that if FGM causes harm, then it should stop.

In addition to that, more Islamic scholars and religious leaders in CRR are giving support to protect girls from FGM.In an interview with another Supreme Islamic Council representative in Buduk in Nianija District, Oustass Dawda York said: "Most people rely on religion and I can testify that enough research has been done to confirm that the practice should stop because it is not in line with Sunnah or Farda.

Let us return to the truth, because we can stop cultural practices that do not benefit our livelihood.We do not have circumcisers in the area but they were hosted by families.We shall reach out to those families for the practice to stop completely in the area."

In a similar development at Kuloro in the West Coast Region, the celebration took a form of a march past starting from Kuloromarket to Kuloro Lower Basic School, in which 150 volunteers of West Coast Region Red Cross members and members of The Gambia Scout Band participated.

Addressing the gathering, Lamin Fatty, the branch officer of WCR, expressed gratitude and delight to the participants for their meaningful participation during the celebration, while thanking the community ofKuloro Village for their contribution.

Fatty acknowledged that the day is veryparamount, noting that there is a great vitality to celebrate it. "The day will equally create an opportunity for members to meet and share their experiences at both national and regional levels," he said.

For his part, Patrick Schwaerzler, the head of theInternational Committee of Red Cross urged the people to use the day as a chance to look to the future. "In the face of civil unrest in Northern Africa and Middle East, open conflict in Afghanistan, food insecurity in the Sahel severe flooding in South America, our well-established network of more than 13 million volunteers people and humanitarian workers continues to play a vital role in meeting the need to the world's most vulnerable people," he disclosed.

According to him, in the face ofmajor challenges such as climate change, conflicts and violence, migration and urbanisation, young people everywhere show that they want to be part of the solution, noting that they helped communities to prepare for disaster, safe access to health care, accept responsibility as agents of behavioral change and building a culture.

"Youth around the work to explore humanitarian law enabling them as tomorrow's leaders to take decisions, preventing unnecessary suffering in times of armed conflict and other situations of violence," he added.

Schwaerzler pointed out that young people already make a profound difference in the lives ofmany vulnerable people and have true capacity to become community champions andprovide needed expertise in an increasingly digital world. Young people, he said, should aim to take positions ofleadership within their humanitarian network and they should be afforded real opportunities to inform their strategic decision making.

Deputising for the governor ofWCR, Sering Modou Joof, the National Disaster Management coordinator for WCR commended the volunteers for their meaningful participation towards nation building and encouraged them to keep up the good work. He advisedthem to be fast and focus during their work so that it can be done effectively and access the road to achieve their ultimate goals in the process.

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