Gambian circumcisers drop knives – a remarkable development
Posted by African Press International on May 7, 2007
Banjul (The Gambia) A remarkable development occurred Saturday morning in The Gambia when at the independence stadium in Bakau, some 12 kilometres from Banjul, the capital, a group of female circumcisers from different parts of the country stepped out before a large crowd of onlookers to publicly drop knives used in circumcising girls and swear that they have abandoned the harmful traditional practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
The public ceremony, which was covered by the media, and was attended by the country’s minister of health and social welfare, Dr. Tamsir Mbowe, and the WHO country representative, Dr. Nestor Shivute, among other dignitaries, was the high point of a countrywide campaign launched over a three year period by the Gambia Committee Against Harmful Traditional Practices (GAMCOTRAP).
At the ceremony, the executive director of GAMCOTRAP, Dr. Isatou Touray, a gender activist and a lecturer at the Management Development Institute explained the genesis of the campaign which she said culminated in the ceremony. She explained further how their campaign against the “jealously guarded secrets about FGM, which was wrongfully associated with religion, thus making the debate more sensitive for women’s rights activists to engage,” was conducted through “effective mobilisation, action and frankness.
Dr. Touray added that GAMCOTRAP had developed the modules for its social mobilisation activities and found them very effective.
She noted that rights can only have meaning when the people are able to uphold them close to home and their practices, adding, “You can only demand your rights when you know what rights you have and can only execute the rights when you know for what purpose. These shermas (circumcisers) have understood the relevant articles and conventions to have reached this decision.”
Welcoming the achievement, the WHO representative spoke of the health hazards associated with FGM, describing in great detail how it affects women in society.
He said the immediate complaints include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage, bleeding, urine retention, ulceration of the genital region and injury to adjacent tissues and he stressed that the injury and haemorrhage can cause death.
He however admitted that in some African societies the practice is deeply rooted and is regarded as “the rite of passage or transition” from childhood to adulthood. Nonetheless, WHO maintains that FGM is deleterious to the health and development of women and children in society, he said.
The health minister also observed that it is a mark of increasing maturity to subject the values and taboos surrounding this institution that the indigenous culture has held in high esteem in some quarters but the surgical aspects of which have been attributed to be causal factors of some health hazards.
He commended GAMCOTRAP for their promotion of a “democratic culture” and for piloting with the concerned circumcisers alternative employment opportunities.
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