Women's Empowerment and Leadership Development for Democratisation
It was two days prior to GAMCOTRAP’s 5th Dropping of the Knife by 30 Circumcisers and 115 Communities in Niamina Jareng, in the Southern part of the Central River Region that the organization learned about the public statement by H.E the President of the Republic of the Gambia banning Female Genital Mutilation in The Gambia. He made this pronouncement at a meeting held in his home village Kanilai, Foni in the West Coast Region of The Gambia and broadcasted on the National Media, Gambia Radio and Televisions Services (GRTS). GAMCOTRAP as a leader in the campaign to promote and protect the rights of women and children against such practices faced challenges in promoting the government’s policies as those anti-women’s empowerment forces aligned to the government undermined the state’s policies by using its own institutions and structures in the guise of promoting religion, Islam in particular, branding anti FGM campaigners as anti-Islam, anti culture and influenced by the West. Meanwhile anti FGM campaigners have been working tirelessly to bring to the attention of the grassroots the State’s commitment to end harmful traditional practices, FGM in particular. GAMCOTRAP appreciates this pronouncement because the lives of the innocent and powerless children will be protected including his own child. It is also about the “Best Interest of the Child”.
This pronouncement is welcomed and appreciated because it has brought the skeptics to realize His Excellency’s stand on FGM and a manifestation of the government’s policy on the issue. It has been a long hard road but let us all take a moment to celebrate but not for too long, because there are still girls at risk of FGM in our communities. The statement is a demonstration of the political will to end the practice in the country. Therefore policy makers should now take responsibility to ensure that there is a legislation responding to the recent pronouncement made by his Excellency. With this statement it is imperative upon the National Assembly Members and relevant institutions to engage with the issues raised and recommendations of the Universal Period Review Meeting and the CEDAW Committee meeting in which the Gambia was a participant. It is also towards the right direction in fulfilling Article 5 of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (also known as the Maputo Protocol) and our own national laws to protect and promote the rights of women and girl-children. GAMCOTRAP appreciates the belated pronouncement to Ban FGM in the Gambia. While we celebrate this important step, further steps will be taken to validate the political will expressed in this public/policy statement. The responsibility lies on the relevant ministries to ensure that they pursue the process further for it to be legislated and to publish in the gazette for it to legally take effect to protect girls.
The National Assembly Members who should have taken this decision will now realize that they have responsibility to represent the best interest of the population including women and children by the legislation of a specific law to prohibit FGM in the Gambia. This pronouncement has made their task easier with a draft proposed bill that has been validated on the 10th January 2013 by over 260 delegates from different parts of the country and sectors including Chiefs and their community representatives. This was followed by a policy brief to give a trajectory of the process of coming up with a draft law to enable the National Assembly Members appreciate the amount of time and efforts made to have warranted a law. This was a popular call by the population which GAMCOTRAP facilitated. The struggle has been long and tough but the positive responses from the communities and their leaders sustained us. In this victory there is need to single out those who provided sustained support such as the Inter African Committee on Traditional Practices, UNFPA and UNICEF joint Programme, Save the Children, FOKUS, Yolocamba Solidaridad, ODAM ONG, Equality Now, V-Day, OBR, UN Women, DFID and many others who provided smaller but sustained partnership over the years. It was through such support that the campaign was sustained and allowed many more actors to join in. Bravo to all the silent Sheroines and heroes for believing in the cause. GAMCOTRAP celebrates the various regions that have taken a bold step to make a public declaration to end FGM amidst the controversy over the twenty-one years of silence research by His Excellency. This pronouncement will inspire the remaining communities we will be reaching out to. We hope the next steps will be shorter, in enacting a law banning FGM.
Cluster Communities responded by making public declarations due to their level of awareness and commitment to end Female Genital Mutilation in particular through five Dropping of the Knife (DOK) celebrations. The years of campaigning has led to 158 Circumcisers and 1015 communities realizing that the negative impact of FGM on the sexual and reproductive health is of importance to having a better and healthier population of women. Community members are aware that protecting girls and women from FGM does not change their faith or cultural identity and they took responsibility to protect them. Such a success could not have been achieved without the support of their leaders such as the governors, chiefs, village heads, women leaders and local imams and religious leaders who supported the circumcisers, encouraged the women, youths and other actors who responded positively to the campaign to end FGM in their communities.
Today we celebrate the likes of Imam Baba Leigh, Imam Saikou Fayinkeh of Basse, Muhamadou Sanuwo, Imam Baba Kanagie of Sutukung, Abubacarr Kanteh of Soma, Imam Janneh of Pirang, Late Imam Manneh of Bakau Barracks, Oustass Kalipha Jammeh of the Education Sector and all other imams and religious scholars who supported their communities to end FGM. They have done their work towards the Ummah, May Allah be Pleased with them for upholding the truth.
To the Doctors and nurses who took a stance and came out to condemn the practice on health ground, namely Dr. Ebrima Samba, Dr. Kurang, the late Dr. Mamo Jawla, Dr. Alhagie A. M. Touray, Dr. Reuben Mboge, Dr. Dumbuya, Dr. Sabally, Dr. Azadeh, Dr. Ebrima Jah, and Dr. Camara.
To the pioneers in the campaign tribute goes to Mrs Saffiatou Singhateh who introduced us as young activists and open the doors for us to engage constructively. To our colleagues who were part of the struggle Amie Joof-Cole, Isatou Marenah, Jarrai Touray, Kaddy Manneh, Lang Dibba and Mammy Kurang and to the GAMYAG team led by Omar Dibba.
GAMCOTRAP trained 306 Community Based Facilitators from different parts of the Gambia to sustain the campaign in their communities. GAMCOTRAP celebrates them for their courage and steadfastness to engage their communities despite the difficulties they faced.
Since 2004 to date GAMCOTRAP has engaged Parliamentarians (now National Assembly Members -NAMS) to raise their consciousness on the impact of FGM on the sexual and reproductive health of women and girls. Some of them have participated in regional meetings to learn and share experiences with other African countries on the need for legislation to protect the rights of innocent and vulnerable girls who are subjected to the practice without their consent. This did not make any impact on them but rather they would tell GAMCOTRAP that “We cannot legislate on FGM because our people are not aware”. This has been the popular rhetoric from most of them who were not sure of His Excellency’s position on the matter. While the NAMS have resisted to take their responsibility to legislate against FGM, His Excellency the President has opened the door for them. Now the ball is in their court.
GAMCOTRAP is of the view that, the sure way to change is to focus on the polity and empower them with the right information to enable them make the right choices and decisions. As a result GAMCOTRAP focused on its grassroots mobilization, empowering communities to take responsibility to protect girls.
GAMCOTRAP cannot celebrate this pronouncement without recognizing the effective contributions of some National organizations genuinely committed to the advocacy to end FGM such as BAFROW for supporting the women affected by FGM through the Well Women’s Clinic Initiative, The Child Protection Alliance, Gambia Family Planning Association and APGWA.
We express our sincere appreciation to the Media Fraternity for engaging constructively since they were trained in 2005 and they set up a Network of Media Practitioners against Harmful Traditional Practices led by Ms Fatou Jobe and Sarata Jabbi. Since that training and many others done over the years, the media has influenced the hearts and minds of the population to end FGM.
The International Community and Embassies who have supported small projects to end FGM and organizations that are just entering the field like Think Young Women, Safe Hands for Girls, Girl’s Agenda, Kids Come First, Young People in the Media, Talented Youth Organisation and many others who are trying to engage in the debate to end FGM.
All those in the Gambia, and the Diaspora, who believing in our cause contributed immensely to the debate to protect the girl-child and advance the best interest of the child. Also gratitude goes to all individuals, too many to name for the great and noble efforts made to protect the innocent children from FGM.
Success they say has many friends but failure has only one, the courageous accept all the shortcomings and learn lessons of the failure to move on. We look forward to move on and protect the girl child.