Gambian President Yahya Jammeh has banned Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the country “with immediate effect’’, Information Minister Sheriff Bojang said. The minister made this known in a statement issued on Tuesday. Bojang said the president declared the ban on the sideline of his nationwide tour.
Reacting to the development, anti-FGM campaigners said it was not clear when a law would be passed to enable the ban to be enforced. They opined that a law was needed to “save countless lives” in the West African nation where three-quarters of women have been cut. Seven out of nine ethnic groups in Gambia carry out FGM, an ancient ritual which is shrouded in secrecy and widely condemned elsewhere as a serious violation of women’s rights.
The practice, which involves the removal of the external genitalia, causes numerous health problems which can be fatal. Some girls bleed to death or die from infections, while others die later in life from childbirth complications caused by FGM. “President Jammeh’s declaration sends a clear message to the world, but enacting a law urgently will send an even stronger signal,” said anti-FGM activist Jaha Dukureh.
“A law is going to save countless lives in the Gambia.” One of the main challenges for activists in the Gambia has been tackling the misconception that FGM is a religious duty, but Dukureh said they had won the support of religious leaders, women’s representatives and community elders in recent years.
FGM affects an estimated 140 million girls and women across a swathe of Africa and parts of the Middle East and Asia, and is seen by many families as a gateway to marriage and a way of preserving a girl’s virginity- uncut girls are often ostracised. More than 1,000 communities and 150 cutters in the Gambia have abandoned FGM in four mass declarations since 2007, according to Isatou Touray, Gambia’s highest-profile campaigner against FGM.
“The whole country has been calling for change and for a law – we are moving towards zero tolerance of FGM,” said Touray, who has faced death threats during some 25 years of activism.