17 January 2013

Gambia: The Fight to End Female Genital Mutilation, Islam Cannot Be Used As a Justification to Continue Practicing This Harmful Traditional Practice.

Mrs.Fatou Kinteh of United Nation Fund for Population Affairs (UNFPA) delivered a statement at the national consultation and constructive dialogue on the proposed bill to prohibit Female Genital Mutilation or Cutting (FGM/C) in the Gambia, held on the 10th January 2013 at the Paradise Suite Hotel. The session was attended by delegates from all different parts the country to discuss the proposed law to prohibit degrading inhuman acts on women and girls.

Mrs. Kinteh noted that " some ethnic groups in the Gambia practice FGM/C for religious reasons and some Islamic Religious leaders and scholars also promote it for religious reasons. What is clear is that since some Muslims do not perform it then it can be concluded that it is not a religious obligation but a deep rooted traditional belief and practice. Since it has serious health implications sometimes leading to death, every effort should be made to abandon it. This requires continuous sensitization and awareness creation."

She said the abandonment of FGM/C was adopted by the 67th session of the UN General Assembly of which the Gambia was represented.

She said the origins of FGM/C have yet to be established, but records show that the practice predates Christianity and Islam and that it is estimated that over 130 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM/C, mostly in Africa (25 countries) Asia and some middle Eastern countries.

"According to the 2010 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) report of the Gambia, the practice of FGM/C is predominant among the Mandinka, Jahanka, Sarahuley, Jola, Fula and the Aku Marabout. According to this report there is a reduction of FGM/C from 78.3 per cent in 2005/2006 to 76.3 per cent in 2010. There is also a decline in people's support for the continuance of the practice as a whole and more significantly in Basse where .92.2 per cent supported FGM/C in 2005/2006 as opposed to 73.1 percent in 2010", she stated.

Mrs. Kinteh further noted that FGM/C is among the deep rooted traditional/ cultural practices held by members of some communities for very long years and often spanning generations. She said FGM/C refers to several types of deeply rooted traditional cutting operations performed on women and girls. In some cultures it forms an important part of the rites of passage ceremony, making the coming of age of the female child.

"In the past, FGM/C formed an important part of the rite of passage of communities where adolescent girls are prepared for marriage. Today, the age at which FGM/C is performed varies from area to area and culture to culture; it is performed on infants as young as seven days old, on children 7 to 10 years old and on adolescents, some adult women also undergo the operation at the time of marriage. Since FGM/C is performed on infants as well as on adults, it can no longer be considered as part of a rite of passage into adulthood or in preparation for marriage", she stated.

She explained that the effects of FGM/C have short term and long term implications. She noted the immediate consequences as Haemorrhage which causes infection and acute pain, Kelloid formation, which is infertility as a result of infection and obstructed labour and psychological complications are identified as later effects. The practice, she added, leads to death, disability, physical and psychological harm for millions of women throughout the world annually.

Mrs. Kinteh noted that in efforts to protect the health and lives of women and girls', UNFPA, UNICEF and other international organisations, local and international NGO5 are 4 working in partnership to create awareness on the health implications of u FGM/C subsequently leading to its abandonment in the long term, as part of efforts to promote women's health and contribute towards the attainment of the MDGs.

"As one of the traditional partners of UNFPA, GAMCOTRAP has been supported through the joint UNFPA -- UNICEF programme for the accelerated abandonment of FGM/C, as well as through UNFPA regular funds to conduct trainings and other forms of awareness creation activities on the implications of Gender Based Violence including FGM/C for the reproductive health and rights of women and girls", said the UNFPA official.

She said this proposed draft Bill to prohibit FGM/C in The Gambia is a result of several years of trainings, sensitisation and awareness creation conducted throughout the Gambia that participants at these activities made recommendations for a law prohibiting FGM/C as part of efforts to protect women and girls.

"The proposed draft Bill is the outcome of years of hard work by the women's rights movement resulting into a comprehensive draft Bill which will be discussed by this August gathering. I wish to applaud GAMCOTRAP and other members of the Women's Rights Movement for their courage, dedication, hard work and commitment", she said.

The UNFPA official said the participants that have been identified to this meeting have been carefully selected based on their knowledge, experience and the important role they play in community development and above all your commitment to ensure the improvement in the reproductive health of women and the girl child.

She told the participants that because of their position in society, the importance of their input in the finalisation of the bill cannot be over emphasised. "By contributing towards the finalisation and adoption of this bill, you are in a very big way contributing towards improving the health of women and girls in this country", she concluded.

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