Gambia: Women's Rights Activists Want Government to Implement Laws Criminalizing FGM

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) remains a practice in The Gambia despite the ban by the State.

There is a law criminalizing this traditional practice, which has been declared medically harmful. However, many Gambian women who are standing against this practice said the Government should do more in terms of implementing the law.

FGM is termed as cutting or the total removal of the female external genital organ for non-medical purpose. It is considered as a human right violation that affects the social wellbeing of women. The practice is a deep-rooted culture which is still carried out in The Gambia despite the ban.

The Gambia banned and criminalized the practice of FGM in 2015. Women's rights advocates termed the ban as an important milestone in the journey to ensuring rights of women and girls are protected and upheld.

In December 2015, the Women's Amendment Bill was passed in the National Assembly to prohibit female circumcision in The Gambia. The amendment addresses one of the key deficiencies of the Women's Act 2010 which failed to provide for the elimination of harmful traditional practices on women.

The Amendment Act of 2015 filled the gap that was unfilled in 2010 Women Act, by providing additional sections- 32A and 32B- in the Women's Amendment Act of 2015.

Section 32A of the Women's Amendment Act 2015 makes it an offence for any person to engage in female circumcision and whoever contravenes the law is liable on conviction to an imprisonment for a term of three years or pays a fine of fifty thousand dalasis. The Act also provides for life imprisonment if circumcision result in death.

Section 32B of the same authority provides that a person, who requests, incites or promote female circumcision even by providing tools or any other means, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of three years or a fine of fifty thousand dalasi or both.

FGM in The Gambia still remains a problem within the communities and the societies. Women's rights activists said this should be a concern to every individual, policy makers, advocacy groups and law enforcers, to investigate where the problem lies and map out how to remedy the issue affecting women and girls in particular.

Fanta Kura Mbye, a tribunal member in Niamina, said laws on FGM are not strong, but soft because the 'Maslaha Syndrome' renders the law weak.

"Maslaha" in short means compromise and in this case it means settling violations of women's right at communal level instead of allowing the law to take effect.

"Although the Maslaha Syndrome cannot be avoided totally within our society, but it needs to be looked into critically with a view to reducing the difficulties that women encounter during and after mutilation," she said.

Madam Mbye said women faced lots of challenges in relation to gender based violence particularly FGM. She lamented that the police are not helpful in matters relating to FGM.

"Officers at the law enforcement agencies do not push issues relating to mutilation to the relevant authorities responsible for implementation and the matter often dies even before it could reach the courts," she said.

Activist Mbye said the police are sometimes not helpful in enforcing women rights in The Gambia.

Mbye however said there are police officers doing their duties as expected of them. However, she said there are some who do not do their work as required by law. She said FGM and all other laws criminalizing violations against women should be implemented.

"These laws should be fully implemented," she said.

Mbye added that if something is banned, it should be stopped completely throughout the country and the violators should be punished, adding that women have the rights to their bodies and privileges it comes with.

"It is unfair for our rights to be violated. Laws are there to support and strengthen our welfare, but they are not implemented," she said.

The country has other statutes aside from the Women's Act that promote and protect rights of women and girls, she cited the Criminal Code and the Children's Act of 2005.

Maria Darboe, a tribunal court member in Niamina Dankunku, said she is not only a tribunal member, but an advocate and activist for women and girls rights in her district.

Mrs Darbo said The Gambia has a law that banned harmful traditional practices in the country, but added people are still practicing FGM secretly in the country. As a woman, she said the law banning FGM should be implemented because she is tired of hearing violence against her fellow women.

Madam Darboe noted that laws criminalizing FGM should be put into action and the perpetrators should be punished by the law. She is convinced that if the law is put into practice, FGM would come to an end in the country.

Aja Mambally Dem, tribunal court member in Niamina West District, who also doubles as the Alkalo of Nana Misira village, said the Government should hear the cries of women and girls by ensuring the laws are implemented to the latter.

Dem said the Government should have translated the law on FGM in various national languages for easy understanding and accessibility.

Mrs. Sira Bah, a retired midwife, said FGM has a negative effect on the reproductive life of a woman especially during child delivery in addition to other complications it comes along with.

The midwife said there is a huge difference between a mutilated woman and an un-mutilated woman when it comes to child delivery. Bah added that women are having complications in giving birth due to cutting and are facing issues within their matrimonial homes. She said this should be a concern to each and every person and there should be unanimity in working to eradicate the practice that has been causing troubles for women.

Bah explained that every part of the body of a woman is essential for her well-being.

Mrs Bafou Jeng, a legal expert, said the Women's Act of 2015 t criminalizes FGM in The Gambia and the laws are there to protect girls and women from being cut.

She said if there are no cases reported or filed at the court, then it will be impossible for them to implement the rule.

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