11 January 2013

Gambia: National Consultative Meeting On FGM Bill Held

A national consultative meeting on the Proposed Bill for the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation in the Gambia was held on the 10 of January, 2012 at the Paradise suite hotel.

The meeting was convened in respect of prohibiting Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the Gambia. This meeting is timely as the Gambia is among 28 countries that are practicing FGM; already 21 countries have enacted laws to prohibit FGM.

The meeting brought together a cross-section of people, including traditional leaders, chief, Alkalolu (village heads), women leaders and women rights activists.

Dr. Isatou Touray, Executive Director of GAMCOTRAP in her statement said "This is an unprecedented manifestation of your commitment to the advancement of Gambian women and girl children in the drive to ensure a protective environment free from all forms of harmful traditional practices".

She registered appreciation to Save the Children International and The UN Women for their long standing partnership and for committing resources to this process.

Dr. Touray said the Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices (GAMCOTRAP) is a leading women's rights grassroots NGO that promotes the rights and wellbeing of women and children. She said part of their mandate is to fight against all forms of harmful traditional practices that are inimical to the health and wellbeing of women and children particularly those practices that impinge on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and the girl child.

"Our work, which is imbedded in grassroots activism and social mobilisation is situated within a broader global framework of advocacy on women and children's rights, as well as global efforts to address belief systems that promote harmful traditional practices. Part of this advocacy is to ensure the promotion of substantive equality for women through the engagement of relevant government institutions, communities and stakeholders across the spectrum to protect and promote the rights of women and children as a universal principle; a context in which FGM and other harmful traditional practices are no exception. Thus, the past advocacy has led to the call for a law to protect the girl child", she said

The GAMCOTRAP Executive Director said the Government of the Gambia has promoted the rights of women and children and is one of the first 25 States to have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). She said the country has also ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adding that the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) has also been fully ratified in 2006. "Similarly, the Gambia is a signatory to the African Union (AU) Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa - SODGEA which was adopted by the African Heads of States in July 2004", said Dr. Touray.

She told participants that each of these instruments made reference to traditional and cultural practices that are prejudicial to the status and health of children and women. "I wish to take this opportunity to extend our appreciation to The President of the Republic of The Gambia for these achievements. Also some of these instruments have been harmonised into our local contexts and we are proud to say that the Children's Act 2005, The Women's Act 2010 and the current policies are responding to women's empowerment" she commended the government for their efforts."

She said over the past two decades they have been engaged in constructive dialogue in raising public awareness on the Effects of Female Genital Mutilation and building consciousness on International Instruments governing the protection of women and particularly those instruments ratified by The Gambia. She added that in a similar vein, the advocacy for law reform has been on-going since 2005 with policy makers and the legislature to be aware of the need to protect children and women from the effects of FGM. She noted that some of these advocacies have contributed to the ratification of international instruments such as the Maputo Protocol by the Gambia in 2006 which clearly articulates the role of the state to legislate against FGM.

Dr. Touray elaborated on Article 5 of the Maputo Protocol which obliged State Parties to prohibit and condemn all forms of harmful practices which negatively affect the human rights of women and which are contrary to recognized international standards. She said this was ratified by the Gambia and that their work with the communities is to strengthen the state and to call for a law in the context of what it has committed itself.

She cited the global ban on FGM by the declaration of the African Union Heads of States in 2011 and the Recent United Nations General Assembly Resolution against FGM which, she said, is moving towards the right direction as they are coming together to validate the proposed Bill to Prohibit FGM.

"I am happy to comment that most of the Communities are empowered with information to recognize the need to protect their women and children. This has led to the Dropping of the knife ceremony, a public declaration made by 98 Circumcisers and 564 communities from 2007 to 2011. I am also glad to announce that under the UNFPA/UNICEF Joint Programme and the European Union, the Central River Region - North of The Gambia will be celebrating 30 circumcisers, and 336 communities will be dropping the knife in February 2013. This progress is informed by recommendations coming from the Chiefs, Alkalolu, Women, and various target groups calling for a Law against FGM", said Dr. Touray.

She said the current proposed Bill is a true reflection of communities and not the handy work of GAMCOTRAP but emerging issues coming from the people because of the awareness that has been generated over the years of consultations. This, she said, came as a result of awareness about the effects of FGM on the health and wellbeing of children and women, adding these processes and advocacy also supported by the Government of The Gambia and all our partners; is what is developed into legal context through the support of a consultant to make the views of the people relevant and applicable.

Dr. Touray noted that this consultation is possible through the guidance of the National Assembly who observed that the people should consult and validate the document and then they would act on the wishes of the people. 'Therefore, the consultant is to present the information generated from the people over the years in a legal text for them to validate the information."

The American Embassy was represented by the acting chief of mission, Mr. Tommy Jones, while the British High Commission was represented by Mr. George Sheriff, both of whom in their statements commended the government for the enabling environment availed to the women's empowerment and also acknowledged the efforts made by GAMCOTRAP.

The meeting was chaired by Nyimasata Sanneh Bojang, who acknowledged the support given to the Gambian women by the current regime. She said this forum should put Gambia at par with the other African countries that have prohibited female genital mutilation. She said enacting this law is a fulfillment of Gambia's international obligations signed by the country. "Gamcotrap has put in place alternative employment opportunity to communities that have dropped the knife as a way of up keeping themselves'.

Prayers were led by Professor Muhammad Sanno.

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