Africa: Over 130 Million Girls, Women Have Undergone FGM/C in Africa, Others

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Hello and a warm welcome to an other edition of the Women's Forum, a weekly column that provides the platform for women to tell their stories in relation to their daily struggles, achievements and other issues that help to advance their cause.

In this edition, we bring you the deliberations at the national consultation and constructive dialogue on the proposed bill to prohibit Female Genital Mutilation or Cutting (FGM/C) in The Gambia.

The origins of FGM/C have yet to be established, but records show that the practice predates Christianity and Islam. 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.

Fatou Kinteh, a representative of the United Nations Fund for Population Affairs made this disclosure at the national consultation meeting on the proposed "Bill to Prohibit Female Genital Mutilation", organised by The Gambia Committee on Harmful Traditional Practices Affecting Women and Girls (GAMCOTRAP) and members of the National Assembly of the Gambia .

The meeting that was held at the Paradise Suites Hotel was in response to a recommendation from the National Assembly to conduct a national consultative meeting to update the second arm of government on the result of their findings.

This policy briefing paper accompanies the proposed bill for an act on the prohibition of female genital mutilation in The Gambia, as a guide to the Office of the Vice President and Ministry of Women's Affairs and the National Women's Bureau and Council on the effective implementation of the proposed bill.

The policy-briefing document refers to the relevant documents and appraises the Government of The Gambia about progress, achievements and important milestones that have been made in promoting the advancement of women and girls.

It also reports on the specific relevant conventions, instruments, protocols and policies The Gambia has enacted and committed to protect and promote the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women, particularly regarding female genital mutilation.

The bill is specifically for the elimination of female genital mutilation in The Gambia

Also the policy brief gives expert legal advice and suggestions for the relevant institutions to guide the process.

Efforts to eliminate FGM in The Gambia

The Gambia is one of the first 25 states to have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). It 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). The adopted Protocol on the African Charter on Human and People's Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa was also ratified in 2006. Similarly, the country is a signatory to the African Union (AU) Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa - SODGEA that was adopted by African heads of state in July 2004.

Each of these instruments made reference to traditional and cultural practices that are disadvantageous to the status and health of children and women.

The Gambia Government also has a National Policy on the Advancement of Gambian women 2005-2009. The policy is being reviewed to address shortcomings and emerging issues and is also meant to address harmful traditional practices in the new Gender Policy for 2010-2020. This policy is an attempt to bridge the gender gaps, and offers a comprehensive framework within which Gambian women can move out of inequality and deprivation towards greater participation in national development processes.

The enactment of the Women's bill 2010 promotes the enabling environment in which GAMCOTRAP will continue to address FGM in the context of reproductive health as stated in Section 31(2) e "the right to the educated on the health aspects of harmful traditional practices."

GAMCOTRAP's support to Government's policy to advance women's rights

The Gambia has committed itself to the promotion and protection of the rights of women and children through the ratification of international and regional conventions and protocols. As a women's rights organisation, GAMCOTRAP's advocacy for law reform includes sensitising communities on international and regional laws. These include raising public consciousness and building awareness on the Constitution and all policies that promote women and children's rights through training and information campaigns.

Communities are being sensitised on specific laws to protect women and children from gender-based violence and FGM in particular. In a similar vein, the advocacy for law reform is ongoing with policy makers and the legislature to look into the need to protect children and women from the effects of FGM through law reform.

Most of the communities are sensitised on law reform to protect the rights of women and children. For instance recommendations coming from the chiefs, alkalolu and various target groups are calling for a law against FGM. Secondly in sampling the need for law amongst 89 Security Officers trained in the Lower River Region and Central River Region respectively, according to the findings of GAMCOTRAP, an average of 82% think FGM should stop.

FGM and Gender Equality: National and International Instruments and Conventions

International conventions and protocols such as: CRC, CEDAW, SODGEA, MAPUTO Protocol, African Charter, Declarations and recommendations and CEDAW-Beijing + reports, specific to FGM and Violence Against Women and Women's Right as well as emerging resolutions from the Commission on the Status of Women, all exist to promote and protect the rights of women and children.

Fatou Kinteh, said that Female Genital Mutilation or Cutting is among the deep-rooted traditional or cultural practices held by members of some communities for very long years, often spanning generations. According to her, 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," she explained.

According to the 2010 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) report of The Gambia, she indicated, the practice of FGM/C is predominant among the Mandinka, Jahanka, Sarahuley, Jola, Fula and the Aku Marabou. According to this report there is a reduction of FGM/C from 78.3 percent in 2005/2006 to 76.3 percent 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 percent supported FGM/C in 2005/2006 as opposed to 73.1 percent in 2010," Madam Kinteh revealed.

Kinteh told the gathering that it is performed on infants as young as seven days old, children seven to ten years old and on adolescents; that 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.

"The effects of FGM/C have short term and long-term implications: Hemorrhage, infection and acute pain are the immediate consequences. Kelloid formation, infertility as a result of infection, obstructed labour and psychological complications are identified as later effects," she stated.

She furhter pointed out that the practice leads to death, disability, physical and psychological harm for millions of women throughout the world annually.

Her words: "Since it has serious health implications which sometimes lead to death, every effort should be made to abandon it and this requires continuous sensitisation and awareness creation".

In an effort to protect the health and lives of women and girls, UNFPA, UNICEF and other international organisations, local and international NGOs are working in partnership with government to create awareness on the health implications of FGM/C subsequently leading to its abandonment in the long term, as part of efforts to promote women's health. The UNFPA representative disclosed that as one of the traditional partners of UNFPA, GAMCOTRAP has been supported through the UNFPA - UNICEF programme for the accelerated abandonment of FGM/C, as well as conduct training and other forms of awareness creation.

This proposed draft Bill to prohibit FGM/C in The Gambia, she stated, is the result of several years of training, sensitisation and awareness campaigns conducted throughout The Gambia.

For her part, the executive director of GAMCOTRAP, Dr. Isatou Touray described the forum as a marked manifestation of their commitment to the advancement of Gambian women and girls in their drive to ensure a productive environment free from all forms of harmful traditional practices. She indicated that the current proposed bill is a true reflection of the commitment of people and not just a proposed document of GAMCOTRAP.

Nyimasata Sanneh-Bojang, the chairperson of the occasion, who also doubles as a board member of GAMCOTRAP, said that the meeting marked the beginning of a very important crusade against FGM in the country.

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