As part of the efforts towards contributing to the promotion of human rights and human dignity for all, 17 intervention and 3 adopted communities participating in the Tostan community empowerment program in Basse-Jilmara and Tumana Kantora District of the Upper River Region, on Sunday 16th December pledged to abandon the harmful cultural and traditional practices of child forced marriage and FGC at a colorful ceremony held at Hella Kunda in the Jimara district.
The ceremony was graced by the Chairman of the Basse Area Council, BAC members, NGOs and civil society organizations, security officers, ward and women councillors, development workers, cutters, traditional kanyalengos, parents, Facilitators, supervisors, partners and the media. In his welcoming remarks on behalf of the village Alkalo of Hella kunda, Malick Krubally welcomed the gathering and said the day is an important day in the history of his village. He stated that Tostan intervention in his village has inculcated a spirit of love, unity and cooperation among the community members, which according to Mr. Krubally is vital for any developing society. He thanked Tostan and the Gambia government in providing an enabling environment and assured the gathering of his fullest support. For his part the VDC Chairman Numuke Jaiteh also made similar remarks. He stated that the Tostan intervention has empowered and complemented the efforts of the VDC in village development, while expressing his total commitment on behalf of the VDC in abandoning FGC and child forced marriage. The community management coordinator Mayang Sanneh said the day is an important day for them as women have committed themselves to abandon what she called a violation of the women rights to health and sexuality. This according to her is a blessing for women since they are the very people who suffer the consequences. She thanked Tostan and the government of the Gambia for their support. For his part Mr. Gassama Sanneh the head master of Hella Kunda Lower Basic School who also doubles as the chairperson of the steering committee welcomed the gathering and said it an important day for the communities participating in the Tostan-Swedish post code/Tostan Sweden-Nike GM and the Government of the Gambia joint project in uniting to openly declare the abandonment of child forced marriage and FGC. He indicated that the decision does not just occur like that, but comes after an intensive three year holistic community empowerment program led by dynamic Tostan facilitators, and reinforced by social mobilization activities by the CMCs and social mobilization teams on issues affecting health and personal wellbeing of women as violations of fundamental human rights as enshrined in the Universal declaration of human rights, CRC, CEDAW as well as the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights to which he said the Gambia our dearest motherland is a signatory. He said the decision also comes after careful observation and evaluation as well as discussion and dialogue with the community members local and influential leaders on the negative effects of these practices from the human right and health perspectives. He However stated that the Tostan community empowerment program is a holistic approach to community led sustainable development covering issues of democracy and good governance, human rights and responsibilities, problem solving hygiene and health, Literacy and management skills, micro finance amongst others. Mr Wally while thanking the donors for their support and the Government through the women's bureau in providing an enabling environment urged the participating communities to ensure the sustainability of the project noting that sustainability of projects and programmes is a concern to donors and project funders. A former cutter Sarjo Jatta gave a testimony on behalf of her fellow cutters and stepped on a traditional calabash bowl, that traditionally hold cutting instruments, symbolizing their complete commitment to abandon the practice of FGC and child forced marriage.
Other speakers include Mbamata Manneh and Haja Sarjo Nyabally of the social mobilization team as well as Haja Nene Darboe head of national women councillors. In his closing remarks on behalf of the Governor of URR Mr. Omar Sompo Ceesay the chairman of the Basse Area Council said it is a great honor for him to preside over what he called a historic ceremony marking the abandonment of child forced marriage by 20 communities. This according to him is very timely and a step in the right direction. He said the Tostan mission in URR since 2007, is to empower the people on Democracy and good governance, human rights and responsibilities, hygiene and health as well as complementing the Government efforts in eradicating illiteracy and poverty, especially in URR. He thanked the donors and Tostan through the executive director Madam Molly Melching commonly called Sukaina Njie for her inspiring leadership and having the interest of URR at heart and assured Tostan of the Government's continued guidance and support while urging the participating communities to practise what they know.
The declaration statement was delivered by Yayinding jallow in Mandinka and Sarjo Jatta in English and it reads:
"We the representatives of the 20 communities voluntarily and with full knowledge declare that we are abandoning the practice of FGC and child forced marriage in our communities"
It ended with a call for other communities in the region to join the movement. The ceremony was graced by traditional performances by traditional communicators and Kanyalengos, the talibes.