Basse — In what is seen as a major victory for the campaign against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a total of 21 communities in the Upper River Region (URR) Districts of Sandu, Wulli West and East have publicly declared their abandonment of the practice.
People in these communities have also agreed to stop early marriage among young girls, as well as other related harmful traditional practices that affect women.
The symbolic declaration that was organised under the aegis of Tostan International The Gambia, an organisation that has been engaging in the campaign against the practice, was made at Bantunding in Wulli East District. The ceremony was witnessed by the governor of the region, members of the URR Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), and district chiefs, amongst others.
"Today, we solemnly and with full knowledge engage in abandoning the practice of Female Genital Cutting [Mutilation] and early and forced marriages in our communities," one Mansata Keita, who read the declaration statement on behalf of the communities declared.
She commended Tostan, the government of The Gambia, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and other development partners for supporting the initiative. Keita stressed that their historic decision is geared towards reinforcing the National Movement for the promotion of Human Rights in The Gambia, and beyond. The move, she told the gathering, is inline with the Tostan Community Empowerment Programme in partnership with the government of The Gambia, UNICEF, Swedish Post Code, and Nike GM.
Keita underscored that the decision to abandon the practice is the end result of a three-year intensive Community Empowerment Programme led by Tostan facilitators; social mobilisation and sensitisation activities by the communities on issues affecting the health and personal well-being of those victimised.
Also speaking at the ceremony, an indigene of the area, Ma Lamin Wally, thanked Tostan for its support to the region. He noted that the URR-based organisation's Community Empowerment Programme is not only focusing on FGC, but is also a holistic approach for community-led sustainable development, covering issues such as democracy, good governance, human rights, problem-solving, health and hygiene, literacy and management skills amongst others. "Tostan programme cannot achieve this major success without the continuous support and collaboration of the Women's Bureau, and the Gambia government for creating the enabling environment," he remarked.
The chief of Wuli East, Ebrima Sorry Juwara thanked Tostan for its efforts in the development process of the country. He acknowledged that the project has created awareness on a lot of issues since the coming of the project to the region.
The governor of the region, Omar Khan,acknowledged that Tostan, since it was established in The Gambia in 2006, has provided the communities of the area with a lot of capacity building trainings, among others. He added that Tostan is contributing immensely towards nation building, and went on to assure his office's continuous support to the project.
The governor recalled that before the coming of the project to the region, ignorance on different issues was high among the locals, something he said has now reduced drastically due to the numerous awareness creation programmes executed by Tostan. Governor Khan finally assured that the government is committed tobringing projects to the country that would help the communities.