Liberation Of The Gambian Girl

In the simplest form, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) can be defined as the act by which the clitoris of a young girl is removed. In most cases it is carried out primitively with the use of knife or razor blades. Lucy Odom, a Special Educationist from the University of Buea, Cameroon, stated that FGM is aimed at transforming a young girl into a “woman”. 

Adaeze Chianumba a Nigeria based advocate for the “girl child” stated that the act could otherwise be called "female circumcision" which is done by the elderly women in villages. The practice can be traced back centuries ago and has a history of its early existence in some African countries especially in Somalia, which has the highest prevalence of FGM in the world. Also, more than 130 million women worldwide are subjected to the procedure, especially in Africa and in the Middle East. In addition, Wikipedia, affirmed that FGM is concentrated in 27 African countries, Yemen and Iraqi Kurdistan, and found elsewhere in Asia, the Middle East, and among diaspora communities around the world.   

In 1997 the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, (UNICEF) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) defined FGM as the “partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” The procedures differ according to the ethnic group in question. However, in the divergence of the procedural rights, the aftermath of the cutting ritual is the same everywhere regardless of any ethnic group. The modus operandi includes, the removal of the clitoral hood and clitoral glans, removal of the inner labia and in most severe form (known as infibulation) and the removal of the inner and outer labia and closure of the vulva. Health experts have always warned that its effects are again dependent on the procedure, but can include recurrent infections, chronic pain, cysts, infertility, lifelong health complications, complications during child-birth, and fatal bleeding. 

Some people believe that the practice is rooted in gender inequality and attempts to control women’s sexuality, recalling ideas about purity, modesty and aesthetics. Aji Rohey Bah, a Law Student come activist narrated that the widespread view of FGM in the Gambia is that it is a means by which girls could be "better" in the future, a way of preserving their virginity for their husbands, and a way of spiritual cleansing to mention but a few.   

In November 2015, the Gambian President announced that Gambia will ban FGM as a result of the global campaign launched by the Guardian to end the practice. There have been stories and tales of controversy trailing the practice of FGM in The Gambia. Kate Lyons in the Guardian stated that Muslim clerics in the country have come out to say that what is practiced in Gambia is female circumcision and not FGM. In the reportage, the state house Imam, Alhaji Abdoulie Fatty said, “I have never heard of anyone who died as a result of female genital mutilation (FGM)... If you know what FGM means, you know that we do not practice that here. We do not mutilate our children.” Seeing that the Muslim clerics advanced yet another argument to say that FGM is different from female circumcision raises more dust into the issue. Anti-FGM activists would insist otherwise. Be it as it may, the complexity of their argument is another point of call.   

It is trite that laws are formulated to govern current realities in the society. To be honest, the problem is not in what the laws state, but in their enforcement. It is without doubt that FGM has been outlawed or restricted in most of the countries in which it occurs. The enforcement of these laws is what is lacking, largely due to the lethargy of regulatory bodies in enforcing these laws and regulations. However, before the end of 2015 FGM was banned in Nigeria, which joined 18 other African countries that have outlawed the practice, including Central African Republic, Egypt and South Africa. Gambia was not  in the list.   

The President, Yahya Jammeh stated that the controversial surgical intervention would be outlawed. The ban would come into effect immediately, even though it is not clear when the government would draft a legislation to enforce it. The Guardian published in November last year that 76% of females in Gambia have been subjected to FGM. It is pertinent to know that the age at which FGM takes place in the Gambia is not recorded, but what is certain is that in most of the countries for which national figure is available, most girls are cut before the age of five. In the case of the Gambia it is prevalent in females between the ages 14-49, this means that by the age of 14, 56% of females in the country have had the procedure.  

Interestingly, reports have shown that the public support for FGM has dropped considerably in recent decades among women across all age groups. Perhaps this set of people has come to realize the wrongness of this practice and decided to give room to the thoughts of civilization in a 21st century setting. Whatever the case is, a ban on FGM is only but the beginning. However, the government of the Gambia should be commended on taking the bold step by announcing it. President Jammeh has started on a good note, the zeal and commitment towards liberating the girl child from mutilation should then be pursued vigorously such that the reduction in the prevalence of this practice will be an achievable task.

About The Author
Ajobiewe Tolulope Odigwe
Ajobiewe is an African Youth Activist from Nigeria and a member of Ignite The Youth.