Gambia: deputies make progress in examining reinstating excision

March 19, 2024
Banjul, Gambia

Gambian MPs made progress on Monday March 18 in their consideration of a controversial text aimed at lifting the ban on female genital mutilation (FGM), in force since 2015, by referring it to a parliamentary committee.
The issue has been dividing this small, Muslim-majority West African country for months. Hundreds of people for and against the project gathered to protest outside parliament, according to AFP.
Pro-FGM activists outnumbered supporters of the status quo.
“The bill aims to preserve religious principles and safeguard cultural norms and values,” said MP Almameh Gibba, who presented the text to his colleagues.
“Banning female circumcision is a direct violation of citizens’ right to practice their culture and religion,” he added.
Human rights activists and NGOs say the legislation reverses years of progress and risks damaging the country’s human rights record.

“There is an inherent risk that this is just the first step and will lead to the rollback of other rights such as the Child Marriage Act… and not just in The Gambia but across the whole West African region”, said Divya Srinivasan, of women’s rights NGO Equality Now.
On Monday, MPs referred the text to a parliamentary committee, which will examine it for at least three months before debating it again. Forty-two voted in favor and four against.
Seventy-six percent of Gambian women aged between 15 and 49 have undergone FGM, according to a report published in 2021 by Unicef.
Unicef characterizes this practice as the partial or total removal of a woman’s external genitalia or any other injury to the female genitalia for non-medical reasons. It can lead to serious health problems, including infection, haemorrhage, infertility and complications during childbirth.
“Girls’ bodies belong to them. Female genital mutilation deprives them of the autonomy of their bodies and causes irreversible damage,” said the UN office in The Gambia on X ahead of the debate.

The UN human rights office called for the bill to be withdrawn, while Amnesty International said it would set a “dangerous precedent” for women’s rights.
Former Gambian president Yahya Jammeh banned FGM in 2015, believing it was outdated and not a requirement of Islam.
Parliament then passed the first law specifically banning the practice, which is now punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment.
Humaniterre with AFP


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