Gambia’s Attempt to Reintroduce Female Genital Mutilation is Condemned
Girls and women protest outside Gambia’s parliament this week in protest against attempts to reintroduce female genital mutilation.

An effort by Gambia’s parliament to reintroduce female genital mutilation (FGM) has been met with widespread condemnation by women’s and human rights organisations.

Gambia’s Members of Parliament voted overwhelmingly this week to refer the Private Member’s Bill that seeks to repeal the Women’s (Amendment) Act of 2015 that banned FGM to parliament’s business committee for further consideration. It may be reintroduced within weeks.

Supporters of the Bill claim that the practice is important for “cultural and religious reasons” in the conservative Muslim-dominated country. 

Only four of the 47 MPs present opposed the decision to entertain the Bill further in Gambia’s parliament, which is made up of 53 male MPs and only five women MPs.

However, Deputy Speaker Seedy SK Njie expressed his support for the current status quo on X, stating that “the FGM law is here to stay. We’re committed to keeping Gambian women and girls safe.”

The Bill was introduced by Almameh Gibba, an MP from the Alliance for the Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC), with the support of Imam Abdoulie Fatty, who advocates for FGM for religious and cultural reasons.

It is being opposed by a number of organisations, including the Network Against Gender-Based Violence and Think Young Women, which is also opposed to child brides.

Despite the banning of FGM nine years ago, almost three-quarters of Gambian women are estimated to have been subjected to the practice, and almost half were cut before their 15th birthday.

“It is very disappointing that, after the long fight Gambian activists put up to advance women’s rights, parliament is preparing to consider this backward move,” said Michèle Eken, senior researcher at Amnesty International’s West and Central Africa office.

“The potential repeal of the FGM ban in The Gambia sends a dangerous message, not just domestically, but internationally,” said Women Leaders Network for Development. (RFLD)

“Other countries grappling with FGM might see this as an opportunity to dismantle their own safeguards, putting millions more girls at risk.

“Proponents of repealing the ban often frame it as an attack on cultural and religious traditions. However, this narrative is misleading. Culture is not static; it evolves with time. Harmful practices, like FGM, have no place in a society that values human rights and equality. The right to health, enshrined in international law, supersedes cultural justifications for practices that cause demonstrable harm,” added RFLD.

Lack of enforcement

Despite the ban on FGM in the three-million strong nation, there has only been one conviction in the past nine years involving three women for cutting babies aged four to 12 months old, according to women’s rights activist Jama Jack. They received fines which were paid by Fatty via a public fundraising campaign, added Jack.

“We must recognise that the practice is rooted in the desire to control our bodies and our sexuality, and any concessions we make today will be applied to other forms of violence we face, because the goalpost will always be shifted,” Jack wrote in a blog this week.

“We have already seen Abdoulie Fatty mention the law prohibiting child marriage, and just as we predicted, they will come for every legislation protecting women and girls.”

FGM involves the partial of total removal of external female genitalia – supposedly to “control” women’s sexuality – and is usually performed on girls under the age of 15.

Around 90% of women in Somalia, Guinea and Djibouti are subjected to FGM, and a range of organisations fear that Gambia’s reversal will encourage others in West Africa.

Over 230 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM), according to a report from the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, released earlier this month. This is a 15% increase since eight years ago.

“The pace of progress to end FGM remains slow, lagging behind population growth, especially in places where FGM is most common, and far off-pace to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal to eliminate the practice. The global pace of decline would need to be 27 times faster to end the practice by 2030,” UNICEF notes.

However, progress to prevent FGM is possible. In the past 30 years, FGM has declined in Kenya from moderate to low prevalence; Sierra Leone has dropped high to moderately high prevalence and Egypt is beginning to decline from a previously near-universal level.

Violation of rights

“In every form in which it is practised, FGM is a violation of girls’ and women’s fundamental human rights, including their rights to health, security and dignity,” according to UNICEF, which estimates that four million girls and women are at risk every year.

“FGM has no health benefits and can lead to serious, long-term complications and even death. Immediate health risks include haemorrhage, shock, infection, HIV transmission, urine retention and severe pain,” said UNICEF, adding that psychological impacts ranged from girls losing trust in her caregivers, anxiety and depression.

“In adulthood, girls subjected to FGM are more likely to suffer infertility or complications during childbirth, including postpartum haemorrhage, stillbirth and early neonatal death.”

Ironically, Gambia’s decision comes in international women’s month and during a global meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. The theme of the 68th meeting of the commission is “Accelerating the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by addressing poverty and strengthening institutions and financing with a gender perspective”.

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