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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Non-Governmental Organization (NGOs) and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) Unite to Urge The Gambia’s Government to Uphold Landmark Law Banning Female Genital Mutilation

The Association of Non-Governmental Organizations in The Gambia (TANGO), the Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices affecting the Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP) (https://apo-opa.info/3LTjELJ), and the Network Against Gender-Based Violence (NGBV) (https://apo-opa.info/3twZeSD) are joined by 180 civil society organizations from across Africa and around the world in co-signing this open letter urging the Government of the Republic of The Gambia to stand firm in its commitments to protect women and girls by upholding the law prohibiting female genital mutilation (FGM). This letter is in response to deeply troubling comments recently made by some religious and political leaders advocating for the decriminalization of FGM, including regressive statements in the national parliament calling for the law to be repealed.

Landmark conviction for female genital mutilation

In 2015, The Gambia took a momentous step by amending the Women’s Act 2010 to explicitly criminalize FGM under sections 32A and 32B respectively. The Women’s (Amendment) Act of 2015 prohibits FGM, stating that, “a person shall not engage in female circumcision… a person who engages in female circumcision commits an offense” and is liable on conviction to “imprisonment for a term of three years or a fine of fifty thousand dalasis or both; and where female circumcision causes death, to life imprisonment.”

Current attempts to remove legal protections were sparked by the convictions in August 2023 of three women for carrying out FGM on eight infant girls. Each offender was ordered to pay a fine of 15,000 dalasis (around $230 US) or serve a one-year prison sentence. The landmark judgment by the Kaur/Kuntaur Magistrates’ Court marks the first conviction since the law banning FGM was enacted eight years ago.

Sustained efforts are required to accelerate FGM’s eradication, and we hail the significance of these convictions and their role in addressing impunity. This case underscores the need to bolster enforcement mechanisms and awareness-raising throughout The Gambia, where UNICEF (https://apo-opa.info/3tnK55U) estimates 73% of women and girls aged 15 to 49 have been subjected to this illegal practice.

However, we are concerned about the leniency of the sentences, as a fine of just D15,000 does not adequately reflect the crime’s seriousness.

Furthermore, some political and religious leaders have openly supported the convicted individuals. Concerningly, they are also publicly advocating for the law against FGM to be repealed, some influential figures have even recommended that FGM be continued. This is despite the promotion or incitement of FGM being criminalized, and such injurious comments being in direct contradiction to the principles of justice, protection, and welfare of women and girls.

Widespread concerns over regressive calls to repeal the law against FGM

A joint statement (https://apo-opa.info/3QnWOPn) by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) expresses their “deep concern on the current regressive Parliamentary debate” advocating for the repeal of The Gambia’s laws prohibiting FGM.

The UN in The Gambia (https://apo-opa.info/3ZPac1X) has also released a statement reaffirming its commitment to supporting the fight to end FGM in The Gambia, highlighting that the prohibition of FGM under the law is in line with The Gambia’s international and regional human rights commitments.

FGM has no health benefits and harms girls and women in many ways (https://apo-opa.info/3ZUpnqC). It involves the removal and damage of healthy and normal female genital tissue and disrupts the natural functions of the body. Immediate complications can include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage (bleeding), tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urinary retention, open sores and swelling in the genital area, and damage to nearby genital tissue. FGM can result in death.

Long-term effects can include recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections, cysts, painful scar tissue, the need for subsequent surgery, sexual health problems, and mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. FGM can also cause infertility and increased risk of complications during childbirth, such as excessive bleeding and obstetric tearing, which can lead to maternal and infant death.

The Gambia has one of the highest FGM prevalence rates in West Africa, and the Foundation for Research on Women’s Health, Productivity and the Environment (BAFROW) reports that seven of the country’s nine ethnic groups practice FGM (https://apo-opa.info/46sP4AU).

The Gambia’s Government must safeguard women and girls from FGM

We, the undersigned, will not relent in our efforts to ensure every girl and woman enjoys her fundamental human rights and has her dignity respected and defended. As such, we stand in solidarity with the survivors, organisations, and activists in The Gambia who have tirelessly advocated for the rights of women and girls, and our commitment remains focused on the experiences and realities of those who endure the trauma of this harmful practice.

We condemn in the strongest terms the actions of people who misdirect social and religious adherence to promote FGM to the detriment of the welfare and rights of women and girls, who bear indelible scars while their bodies are reduced to political tools. Regrettably, thousands more in The Gambia remain at risk.

The Gambia has demonstrated admirable leadership in taking legislative action against FGM, and the positive ripple effects extend far beyond its borders, influencing other West African nations in their endeavours to combat this entrenched form of gender-based violence. Neighbours have looked to The Gambia as a source of inspiration, drawing valuable lessons and momentum from its progress.

Repealing the anti-FGM law would undo the considerable gains made in safeguarding the rights and well-being of women and girls. Furthermore, reversal would potentially weaken the resolve of other nations, undermining the continent’s collective struggle to eradicate FGM and overshadowing many lives throughout West Africa and beyond.

As Africa celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Maputo Protocol which under its Article 5 on Ending Harmful Practices, obligates the 44 state parties including The Gambia to end female genital mutilation; we urge the government of The Gambia to stay firm and committed to upholding its obligations under this treaty.  We look to The Gambia to continue demonstrating its leadership in the criminalisation of FGM and for the Government to fulfill its obligations to protect the rights and welfare of women and girls, which entails upholding its commitments under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) (https://apo-opa.info/48QNI4x).

In that regard:

1. We request that the Government and the Ministry of Justice impartially uphold the law against FGM and ensure that those who partake in, support, or advocate for FGM face appropriate consequences according to the law.

2. We call for the protection of the rights and well-being of FGM survivors. They merit our unwavering support, empathy, and access to requisite services.

3. We urge the Government through the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare and the Ministry of Justice to call for a national dialogue that is inclusive of all stakeholders to address the FGM issue. .

4. We pledge to tirelessly raise awareness about the detrimental effects of FGM and replace this practice with culturally enriching alternatives that respect the dignity and well-being of women and girls.

5. We invite all Gambians to stand with us in this endeavour to foster a country where the rights and the dignity of every woman and girl are upheld and defended.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Gamcotrap.

Notes to editors:
Media contact:
Mr. Fallu Sowe
National Coordinator for Network Against Gender-Based Violence
Tel: +220 4398122/ 763 8129
Email: [email protected]

Mrs. Yadicone Njie Eribo
Chairperson of The Association of Non-Governmental Organizations in The Gambia (TANGO)
Tel: +220 733 3820
Email: [email protected]

Tijan Bojang
Information and Communication Officer
GAMCOTRAP
Email:[email protected]
Tel:00-220-7130117/3463073

About Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting:
FGM is a human rights violation deeply rooted in gender equality and discrimination. It violates various human rights under international and national law, including women’s and girls’ rights to equality, life, the security of the person, dignity, as well as freedom from discrimination and torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

FGM often results in lifelong health problems, increased risks during childbirth, psychological trauma, and even death. At the time the practice is carried out, risks include severe bleeding, shock, infection (https://apo-opa.info/3ZZcbAU), other serious injuries, and even death can occur.

A girl or a woman who has been subjected to FGM can experience a range of issues, including problems passing menstrual blood or urine, urinary tract infections, pain during sex, less or no sexual pleasure, psychological problems, infertility, and increased risk of complications during childbirth.

The importance of eliminating FGM is publicly highlighted by the United Nations within Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which outlines a blueprint for achieving gender equality and empowerment for all women and girls. Target 5.3 under this goal requires all 193 countries that signed onto the SDGs to take action to “eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation” by 2030.

The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) (https://apo-opa.info/48QNI4x) banned FGM in 2003 (Article 5), and the following treaty monitoring bodies have all interpreted FGM as a human rights violation in breach of those treaties:

the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (https://apo-opa.info/48O34a8),
the Convention on the Rights of the Child (https://apo-opa.info/45nwYzb),
the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (https://apo-opa.info/45qF6yU),
the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (https://apo-opa.info/3M08AN3),
and the Convention against Torture (https://apo-opa.info/3trYFJM).

Signed by:

ACT Alliance Tanzania Forum

1

Action Aid Ethiopia

2

Action for COmmunity Task (ACT-SL)

3

Africa Coordinating Centre for Abandonment of FGM/C

4

African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies ACDHRS

5

Afya Afrika, Kenya

6

Agency for Culture and Change Management UK (ACCM UK)

7

Akina mama wa Africa

8

Amnesty International

9

Amref Health Africa

10

AMREF Health Africa

11

Asia Network

12

Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW)

13

Associate of Karenni Policy Support

14

Association des blogueurs du Bénin

15

Association des femmes juristes du Burkina Faso (AFJ/BF)

16

Association des Mairies des Jeunes du Bénin ( AMJB)

17

Association for Egyptian Female Lawyers,

18

Association Tin Tua (Burkina Faso)

19

AWASH

20

CAFCO / RDC

21

Case Salone Centre for Advocacy and Sustainable Empowerment

22

Center for Social Value and Early Childhood Development ( CESVED)

23

Centre de Formation en Mécanismes de Protection des Droits Humains

24

Centre for Community Mobilisation and Empowerment (CECOME)

25

Child Protection Alliance (CPA)

26

Circuit Pointe

27

Climate Live Tanzania

28

Coaches of Influence Foundation (COIF)

29

Coalition on Violence Against Women (COVAW)

30

Come Together Widows&Orphans Organisation (CTWOO)

31

Come Together Widows and Orphans Organization

32

Comfort and Hope Development Organisation (COHOD)

33

Commission Indépendante des Droits de l’Homme en Afrique du Nord (The Network of the Independent Commission for Human Rights in North Africa)

34

Compassion CBP

35

Concern for Women

36

COVAW

37

Covenant Foundation for Girls (COFGIRLS)

38

Democratic Socialist Women of the Phillipines (DSWP)

39

Droits Pour Tous

40

End Female Genital Cutting Singapore

41

End FGM/C Canada Network

42

End FGM European Network

43

End FGM/C US Network

44

Equality Now

45

FABSA Foundation

46

Fact Check Centre The Gambia

47

FAMEDEV-Le Réseau Inter Africain Des Femmes,Médias, Genre et Développement (Inter Africa Network for Women, Media ,Gender and Development)

48

Fantanka

49

FAWEGAM

50

Female Lawyers Association Gambia (FLAG)

51

Finnish Mission in Uganda

52

Fondation des Jeunes Amazones pour le Développement (FJAD-ONG)

53

Forum Against Harmful Practices

54

Gambia Association of deaf and hard of hearing.(GADHOH)

55

Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices affecting the Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP)

56

Gambia Family Planning Association (GFPA)

57

Gambia Teachers’ Union (GTU)

58

GAMNASS

59

Girl2Girl Empowerment Movement (G2G)

60

GirlKind

61

GirlKind Kenya

62

Girls Talk Organisation

63

Girls’ Pride Gambia

64

Global Youth Consortium against FGM

65

Hamia Hapa (Uganda)

66

HEFORSHE –THE GAMBIA

67

Himiza Development

68

Hope Beyond Foundation

69

Hope for Women (HFW)

70

I_Rep Foundation

71

I-REP Foundation

72

Iceland Gambia Friendship

73

IFRAH Foundation (Somalia)

74

Il’laramatak Community Concerns (ICC), Kenya

75

Indigenous Women for Health and Equality (DRC)

76

Initiative for Girls Right and Health Development (Uganda)

77

Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices (IAC)

78

Inua Mama Njane CBO, Kenya

79

Joy for Children, Uganda

80

Kadirat

81

Kalyanamitra

82

Keep the Drum and Loose the Knife

83

Kenson Children Development Foundation

84

Kenya Council of Imams and Preachers

85

Kenya Council of Imams and Ulamaa

86

Kids Come First Foundation

87

l’Association des Mairies des Jeunes du Bénin ( AMJB)

88

L’Association Malienne pour le Suivi et l’Orientation des Pratiques Traditionnelles (AMSOPT)

89

LHRC

90

Maine libres

91

Malaysian Doctors for Women&Children

92

Men End FGM Foundation

93

Ministère des Affaire Sociales (DRC)

94

Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and the Family, Cameroon

95

Mothers’ Health Foundation

96

Mtoto News International

97

Musawah

98

MUTAPOLA The Gambia

99

National Forum of Women with Disabilities

100

National Youth Parliament

101

Network Against FGM/C in Somaliland (NAFIS)

102

Network against Gender-based Violence (NGBV)

103

Network for Reorientation

104

Network Gender Advocators’ Gambia (NGAG)

105

Network of Gender Journalists for Women and Cultural Advancement

106

Network of Girls against Human Trafficking

107

NGO Universal Education

108

Nisa Ul Haqq fi Bangsamoro

109

NooN Legal and Social Organization

110

Nova Scotia Gambia Association (NSGA)

ONG Droits Pour Tous

111

ONG CO-GNA Niger

112

ONG Éducation Universelle

113

Orchid Project

114

Oxford Against Cutting

115

Pan African Female Youth Leaders (PANAFYL)

116

Paradise Foundation Initiative

117

Peace Ambassadors The Gambia

118

Peace Hub The Gambia

119

Peace of Mind

120

Plan International – Kenya

121

Pour NouEs

122

Praise Foundation, Sierra Leone

123

Project21

124

Purposeful

125

Raise The Young Foundation

126

Raising Teens Uganda

127

Réseau Nigérien des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (RNDDH)

128

Rural Development Foundation (RDF), Pakistan

129

Rural Initiative for COmmunity Empowerment (RICE-SL)

130

Rural Women Rights Structure

131

Safe Hands for Girls

132

Sahiyo

133

Sainte Philomène, l’espérance

134

Salimatou Foundation for Education

135

Samburu Girls Foundation

136

Save for Children (Tanzania)

137

Silver Lining Kenya

138

Spread Truth Africa

139

State Department for Gender, Kenya

140

STEWARDWOMEN

141

Tanzanian Women Lawyers Association (TAWLA)

142

Tasaru Ntomok Initiative (TNI), Kenya

143

The Association for the Defense of the Right of Household and Domestic Aid Gambia (ADDAD)

144

The Association of Non-Governmental Organizations in The Gambia (TANGO)

145

The Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DSWP)

146

The Five Foundation

147

The Girls’ Agenda (TGA)

148

The New Generation Girls and Women Development Initiative

149

The Survivors of Presidential Alternative Treatment Program (SPATP)

150

The Uncounted

151

Think Young Women

152

Together Africa Gambia Organisation (TAGO)

153

TOSTAN

154

UNFPA Burkina Faso

155

UNRCO/ Uganda Spotlight

156

Voices for the Voiceless Woman Sierra Leone (VVW-SL)

157

Voix de Femmes (VdF)

158

Washington Coalition to End FGM/C

159

Wassu Gambia Kafo

160

WAYASS

161

We Can Cox’s Bazar

162

We Speak Out India

163

WILDAF-Bénin

164

Women Against Violence and Exploitation in Society (WAVES-SL)

165

Women and Children Aid The Gambia

166

Women In Liberation and Leadership (WILL)

167

Women Initiative for Peace and Security (WIPeS)

168

Women Initiative for Self Help (WISH) Lib. Inc

169

Women Pathfinder

170

Women’s Action for Human Dignity (WAHDSL)

171

Women’s Studies Centre (WSC),

172

World Vision – Tanzania

173

Yakarr Justice

174

Yayasan Kesehatan Perempuan

175

Young People in the Media

176

Young Women Christian Association

177

Youth Anti-FGM Network Kenya

178

Youth Association for Development

179

Youth Educational Support Services (YESS)

180

Source

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