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Anti-FGM Law: Too Far To Go Back

By Sanna Camara

Human rights advocates and the broader human rights community have expressed shock on September 11, 2023, when some religious leaders of The Gambia, through select members of the National Assembly sought to repeal the laws banning the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the country.

In 2015, The Gambia took a momentous step by amending the Women’s Act 2010 to explicitly criminalize FGM under sections 32A and 32B of the Women’s (Amendment) Act of 2015, which prohibits the practice of FGM in the country.  The law states that “a person shall not engage in female circumcision… a person who engages in female circumcision commits an offence” and is liable on conviction to “imprisonment for a term of three years or a fine of fifty thousand dalasis or both; and where female circumcision causes death, to life imprisonment.”

However, advocates were “shocked” to learn that a private Bill was being sponsored by pro-Islamist legislators to repeal the ban against this FGM practice, describing it as a “plunge [for] the Gambia back into the dark days of no law against FGM”

These attempts to remove legal protections were sparked by the convictions in August 2023, of three women for carrying out FGM on eight infant girls in rural Gambia. Each offender was ordered to pay a fine of 15,000 dalasis (around $230 US), or serve a one-year prison sentence. The landmark judgment by the Kaur/Kuntaur Magistrates’ Court marks the first conviction since the 2015 ban on FGM in the country.

“In 2015, in response to the egregious nature of the practice of FGM in the Gambia, which often led to death, and complications in childbirth as well as a fostering of patriarchal ideologies and gender stereotypes, women rights defenders, human rights advocates, legislators and CSO’s successfully advocated and enacted a law to push back on this practice,” said Dr Isatou Touray, former Vice President of The Gambia and leading advocate against FGM in the country, in a joint statement with Faiza Jama Mohamed, the Africa Regional Director of the NGO, Equality Now.

Health and medical evidence show that many women and young girls are dying due to the after-effects of this act, especially considering it is a surgery process conducted on one of the most sensitive organs on the girl child without medical training and lacking basic health standards.

According to UNICEF, 73% of women and girls aged 15 to 49 years in The Gambia have undergone FGM.

“We have come too far to go back now: Preserving and implementing the Anti-FGM Law in The Gambia is a mark of meaningful progress,” the two said.

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