World Politics

FGM: This Is Now The Plight Of Gambia’s Women.

The Gambia is in the process of lifting the long-standing ban on female genital mutilation.

WFY BUREAU AFRICA: Earlier the first country to remove restrictions on the practice was Gambia. The West African nation’s lawmakers decided to move forward with a bill that lifts a ban from 2015. Legislators in Gambia have decided to remove millions of girls’ legal rights by repealing a ban on female genital cutting, sparking concerns that other nations may follow suit.

42 of the 47 Gambia National Assembly members in attendance voted in favour of sending a bill to reverse the prohibition to a committee for review prior to a final vote. Reversing the ban, according to human rights specialists, attorneys, and advocates for women’s and girls’ rights, would reverse decades of efforts to put a stop to female genital cutting, a custom that dates back centuries and is associated with concepts of sexual purity, submission, and control.

The tiny country of Gambia, in West Africa, will be the first in the world to remove prohibitions against cutting if the bill makes it through the final steps of passage.
Before it returns to Parliament for a final reading in roughly three months, government committees will have the opportunity to suggest changes, but experts believe that it has already passed a crucial point at which its supporters will likely gain traction and the bill will become law.

The Gambia outlawed genital cutting in 2015, but it didn’t come into effect until last year, when three practitioners faced stiff fines. An influential imam in the nation with a majority of Muslims has led calls to lift the ban. He argues that cutting, which in the Gambia typically entails removing the clitoris and labia minora of girls between the ages of 10 and 15, is both a religious and cultural obligation.

One of the main opponents of genital cutting in the Gambia is Ms. Fatou Baldeh. Anti-cutting campaigners gathered outside Parliament in Banjul, the country’s capital, but police put up barricades and prevented them from getting inside, letting in the religious leaders who support cutting and their followers.

Following the vote, Ms. Baldeh had remarked in a media interview that “it was very sad to witness the whole debate and men trying to justify why this would continue.” She further expressed her fear that if the men spearheading the effort—whom she characterised as radicals—were successful, they would attempt to reverse other laws, such as the one that outlaws child marriage.

MPs (men only) argued among themselves in Parliament. According to Parliament Watch, an organisation that encourages parliamentary transparency and accountability, one member of the parliament also stated that if people are being arrested for practicing female genital mutulation, then that means they are being deprived of their right to practice religion.

Though it is also frequent in some parts of Asia and the Middle East, genital cutting is primarily practiced in Africa and comes in several forms. Genital cutting, widely acknowledged as a flagrant violation of human rights and the primary cause of mortality in the nations where it occurs, often results in serious health problems such as infections, bleeding, and excruciating agony.

Despite measures to curb it, genital cutting is becoming more widespread around the world. UNICEF estimates that over 230 million women and girls have had it; this is a 30 million increase since the organisation’s last estimate in 2016.

Four MPs abstained, and four voted against moving the bill forward. Only five women out of the 58 parliamentarians in the Gambia led the conversation about a practice that imposes on young girls. The head of the National Human Rights Commission of the Gambia, Emmanuel Joof, stated, “They have no say.”

The United States’ ambassador at large for international women’s affairs, Geeta Rao Gupta, expressed that lifting the prohibition would have serious, life-threatening consequences for the health and well-being of Gambia’s women and girls.

One of the most infamous dictators in the region, Yahya Jammeh, ruled the Gambia from 1994 until 2016. A truth committee discovered in 2021 that Jammeh had raped women, tortured and killed people with a hit squad, and arbitrarily imprisoned a large number of people. He referred to those working to stop female genital mutilation—often referred to as F.G.M.—as “enemies of Islam.” When Mr. Jammeh outlawed cutting in 2015, many Gambian opponents were shocked; observers attributed this development to his Moroccan wife’s influence.

In the Gambia, where three-quarters of women and girls are mutilated, the new law was heralded as a historic event. However, Mr. Joof asserts that the failure to uphold the law inspired pro-cutting imams, who are hellbent on having a theocratic state, to attempt to repeal it.

Though the Quran does not support female genital mutilation, Muslim clerics differ on whether it is permissible in Islam. Abdoulie Fatty, the most outspoken imam in Gambia, has claimed that getting a circumcision “makes you cleaner” and that men who marry women who have not had the procedure suffer because they are unable to satiate their partners’ sexual cravings. Many Gambians called Mr. Fatty a hypocrite, pointing out that he was the presidential imam when Mr. Jammeh outlawed cutting, yet he didn’t seem to say anything about it.

Mr. Fatty had a bunch of young women yell pro-cutting slogans outside Parliament during the bill’s first reading two weeks ago. With their faces covered, which is not common in the Gambia, they hoisted pink placards that said, “Female circumcision is our religious belief,” while singing.

When Ms. Baldeh, an opponent of genital cutting, was eight years old, someone pushed her down and cut her. However, she didn’t identify female genital mutilation with anything she had experienced because she perceived it as a cultural practice rather than a violent practice that injured women when she first heard the word while pursuing a master’s degree in sexual and reproductive health. Her own grandma, a customary birth attendant, performed the cutting.

However, after reading about and talking to other women, Ms. Baldeh came to understand what she had been through and began to speak out against cutting, initially attempting to persuade her own family members. She rose to prominence as one of the most well-known advocates against cutting in the Gambia.

According to Ms. Baldeh, if there was a will to do so, cutting might disappear in a generation.
She declared, “If you don’t cut a girl, she won’t cut her future daughters.”

On March 4, Ms. Baldeh accepted an International Women of Courage award for her efforts to combat cutting at the White House alongside Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and first lady Jill Biden. However, Gambian MPs were hearing the first reading of the measure to repeal the cutting ban that same day, which would undo the legal progress Ms. Baldeh and other cutting opponents had gained.

According to UNICEF, female genital mutilation has affected more than 230 million girls and women alive today.

Comparing statistics from 2016 to new estimates, the overall number of FGM survivors has increased by 15% worldwide.

A recent UNICEF report estimates that over 230 million women and children alive today have had female genital mutilation (FGM). In comparison to figures provided eight years ago, the new global estimates indicate a 15% rise in the total number of survivors, or 30 million more girls and women.

The data, released on International Women’s Day, shows that the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal to end female genital mutilation (FGM) remains significantly unmet. It also lags behind population growth, particularly in areas where the practice is most prevalent. To stop the practice by 2030, the rate of decline worldwide would need to accelerate by 27 times.

UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell stated, “Female genital mutilation harms girls’ bodies, dims their futures, and endangers their lives.” Concerningly, an increasing number of girls, many before turning five, are undergoing the procedure at earlier ages. This significantly reduces the opportunity for intervention. We must step up our efforts to put an end to this detrimental behaviour.

Female Genital Mutilation: A Global Concern contains the most recent statistical data on female genital mutilation (FGM), a practice that violates the human rights of girls and women and can have long-lasting effects on the body, mind, and society. The paper reports 144 million cases in African nations, 80 million in Asia, and 6 million in the Middle East. Tiny practicing groups and migratory countries outside of Africa are believed to have experienced additional cases.

The data indicates a rapid increase in the proportion of girls born in countries that practice FGM compared to the rest of the world, despite the practice not becoming more widespread worldwide. This implies that a wider at-risk population has to be the focus of future preventive initiatives.

Additionally, the data reveals that 4 out of 10 FGM survivors reside in areas that are unstable, impacted by violence, and seeing rapid population expansion. It may become increasingly difficult to address FGM as a result of this mix of factors that put a load on health and education systems, direct resources towards emergencies, and sabotage efforts that address gender inequality. In addition to other pressing concerns, places like Somalia and Sudan must deal with the problem of widespread FGM in the midst of conflict and population expansion. Although Ethiopia has made steady progress, it is more difficult to continuously implement programming to empower girls because of sickness, food shortages, and climate shocks.

However, the report also demonstrates that progress is feasible and ongoing. In just the last ten years, we have seen half of the advancements made during the previous thirty years. Kenya, where the frequency has decreased from moderate to low; Sierra Leone, where the incidence has decreased from high to moderately high; and Egypt, where the prevalence has started to diminish from a nearly universal level, are some instances of countries.

FGM-related attitudes are also evolving. Two-thirds of the population in the Middle East and Africa’s practicing nations, or about 400 million people, are against the practice, according to the report.

UNICEF urges communities and leaders to step up efforts to end gender inequality and discrimination against girls, prioritise girls’ rights in laws and policies, invest urgently in services for girls, support girls’ agency and assets, and better track the practice’s prevalence using high-quality data in order to end FGM.

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