Global Leaders Offer Support to Gambia to Uphold Ban on Female Genital Mutilation 
Save Hands for Girls campaigns against female genital mutilation in The Gambia by working with schools, parents and organisations.

Global health and parliamentary leaders have offered to support The Gambia to maintain its  ban on female genital mutilation (FGM), expressing “profound concern” over a recent attempt to reverse the ban. 

The business committee of Gambia’s parliament is currently contemplating whether to allow the passage of a Private Members Bill which aims to reverse the landmark Women’s (Amendment) Act of 2015, which outlawed FGM.

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, a notorious proponent of FGM. The process 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.

But this attempt to reintroduce FGM has been condemned by the leadership of both the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH), the world’s largest alliance for women’s, children’s, and adolescent’s health and well-being, which is hosted by World Health Organization (WHO), and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the global organisation of national parliaments.

They urge the Members of the National Assembly to continue to protect the “hard-won” ban on FGM, warning in a statement issued over the weekend that repealing the ban “would not only undermine this progress but also perpetuate a cycle of discrimination and violence against women and girls”.

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.

There has only been one FGM-related 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.

‘All possible support’

“We pledge all possible support to The Gambia in strengthening its efforts to prevent and address this harmful practice through multi-sectoral actions. This includes ensuring robust enforcement mechanisms, increasing access to quality healthcare services, and promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment initiatives,” according to the statement, which is signed by PMNCH leaders Helen Clark, Joy Phumaphi, Githinji Gitahi and Flavia Bustreo, and IPU Secretary General Martin Chungong.

“FGM is a grave violation of human rights and a harmful practice with severe health consequences, including physical, psychological, and reproductive and sexual health complications,” they add.

“FGM is associated with increased risks of postpartum hemorrhage, perinatal death, as well as urinary tract infections, menstrual difficulties and mental health conditions over the life course of women and girls.”

The PMNCH and the IPU emphasise the importance of upholding international human rights standards and commitments to protect women and girls from all forms of violence and discrimination.

“As a signatory to various international instruments, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), The Gambia has a duty to uphold its obligations to its people and prioritize the health and rights of its population,” they remind the country.

Domino effect?

“Combatting FGM requires partnership at all levels. Parliamentarians can develop and uphold comprehensive legal frameworks; opinion leaders, including faith leaders, are needed to speak out firmly against the practice; community members, including health workers, can carry out powerful awareness campaigns based on lived experience, ensuring that care and support for survivors are integrated into sexual, reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health (SRMNCAH) services.”

Meanwhile, Bustreo, who chairs PMNCH’s governance and ethics committee, said that her organisation was concerned about potential copycat moves.

“The concern lies in the potential for a domino effect if an anti-FGM law is repealed, signaling to others that similar regressive steps are acceptable,” Bustreo told Health Policy Watch.

“This isn’t merely about changing legislation; it’s about preserving the progress made in safeguarding the rights and well-being of women and girls. Repealing such laws threatens to erase years of dedicated advocacy and community engagement.” 

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

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.

Image Credits: Safe Hands for Girls.

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