- A sizeable number of Gambian female circumcisors publicly abandoned their knives in front of a crowd at the Independence Stadium in Bakau, 12 km from the capital Banjul, swearing that they would no longer use their knives to circumcise or mutilate the genitals of young girls.
The move will instil hopes among national and international activists campaigning against the age-old culture of female genital mutilation otherwise known as FGM.
Thousands of Gambian women have become victims of the circumcisors’ knives. Several reasons have been advanced to authenticate the culture. While some people connect it to religion, others said the cutting of the clitoris prevents a girl from selling her greatest pride [virginity] before she gets married. They hold the belief that the practice reduces sexual pressures of girls and women.
Activists and medical experts differ from supporters of the practice, arguing that it generally setbacks the health of women and in some cases resulting to death.
In 1996, some Gambian religious leaders and activists opened confrontational chapter on the issue, resulting to a ban on the discussion of FGM on national radio and television by the government.
But with steadfastness, a leading anti-FGM organisation fighter, Gambia Committee Against Harmful Practices (GAMCOTRAP), under the leadership of Dr. Isatou Touray, a renowned gender activist, did not give up the fight.
Her organisation was the force behind the historic event, an extract of its three-year campaign against FGM.
Dr Touray told the gathering that GAMCOTRAP’s campaign aims to uncover “the jealously guarded secrets about FGM, which was wrongly associated with religion, thus making the debate more sensitive for women’s rights activists to engage.”
She said the watershed campaign focuses on “effective mobilisation, action and frankness” - missing elements of the previous campaigns.
The secrets behind the success of GAMCOTRAP were contained in the organisation’s very effective designed modules on social mobilisation activities.
Dr Touray, also a gender lecturer at the Management Development Institute, argued that rights can only have meanings when the people have the guts to uphold them close to home and their practices.
"You can only demand your rights when you know what rights you have and can only execute the rights when you know for what purpose,” she said, adding that the circumcisors have understood the relevant articles and conventions before they dropped their knives.
Dr Tamsir Mbowe, Gambia’s Minister of Health, praised GAMCOTRAPT officials for hiding behind maturity to break taboos surrounding a culture which has been held in high esteem in some communities.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) country representative, Dr. Dr Nesto Shivute, hailed the GAMCOTRAP’s new campaign against FGM as a great success because the practice has caused untold sufferings and health risks among women.
Shock, severe pain, haemorrhage, bleeding, urinary track infection, ulceration of the genitalia and injury to adjacent tissues are among the consequences of the practice. Besides, medical experts say so many circumcised women die at childbirth.
Dr. Shivute said some African societies regard the practice as a rite of passage that prepares children for adulthood. He however said WHO still maintain FGM as a deterrent to the health and development of women and children in society.
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