Over the last several decades, efforts to address FGM/C have intensified with the support of many partners, including governments, international institutions, and non-governmental organizations, religious and other civil society groups, and local communities.
These efforts have contributed to and benefitted from an evolving understanding of the practice and of the social dynamics that lead to its abandonment. New insights into FGM/C are informing the design of policies and programmes both in countries where it has been practiced for generations and in areas where it is relatively new and associated with immigration.
Despite the successes, women empowerment is still weak. In Gambian society, patriarchy dominates, and in concert with negative socio-cultural practices like forced and early marriage, teenage pregnancy and female genital mutilation which sometimes leads to obstetrics complications, obstetric fistula and death (UNFPA, 2017) leading to the exclusion of women and girls from actively participating in certain sectors and at certain levels of the development process of the country. For instance, due to this dominance, women have limited access to adult literacy, numeracy, and livelihood skills.
Female Genital Mutilation is a deeply rooted cultural practice in The Gambia which involves the removal of a female’s genitalia for non-medical purposes. The practice is a serious human rights violation. In November 2015, the government of The Gambia declared FGM banned with serious consequences attached.
Despite the legislation against FGM/C and Child Marriage, the practice continues to be practiced clandestinely. From 2015 to date, only a case on FGM/C has been reported and taken to court and yet still the practice continues in secret. Recently it has been observed that some communities have started openly celebrating the practice as it was done before legislation was passed against it. Some people even cited the FGM law as ‘Yaya Jammeh’s law, and that Jammeh has gone with his bad laws.
Immediate complications include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage, tetanus or infection, urine retention, ulceration of the genital region and injury to adjacent tissue, wound infection, urinary infection, fever, and septicemia. Haemorrhage and infection can be severe enough to cause death.
Long term consequences include complications during child birth, anaemia, the formation of cysts and abscesses, keloid scar formation, damage to the urethra resulting in urinary incontinence, dyspareunia (painful sexual intercourse), sexual dysfunction, hypersensitivity of the genital area and increased risk of HIV transmission, as well as psychological effects.
The 2013 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) indicates that over 40 per cent of women aged 20 – 49 in The Gambia were married before the age of 18 years, while 16 per cent of women of the same age cohort got married before they turned 15. This practice denies girls their right to education and freedom to control their bodies; it also endangers their health, and exposes them to the risks associated with maternal complications, HIV infection and Gender-Based Violence.
Child marriage occurs when one or both of the spouses are below the age of 18. Child marriage is a violation of article 16(2) of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which states that marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouse’. Article 16 of the convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) states that women should have the same right as women to freely choose a spouse and to enter marriage only with their free and full consent’, and that the” betrothal and marriage of a child shall have no effect”.
In order that we are able to provide our adolescent women and girls the needed empowerment to promote their full contribution to national development, it is evident that these two old age practices must be eradicated from our society by increasing awareness on the negative attributes attached to such practices. This is why we came with this campaign #NsaKeeno (We Can Do It) with support from UNICEF. This we intend to do using our structures in the regions and the youth groups registered with the Council. The motive behind this slogan ‘Nsa Keeno’ is to advocate for behavioral or attitudinal change with regards to the mindset or mentally people have towards the practice and eradication of FGMC/Child marriage.