|Lamin Village Alkalo (village head)|
However, this trend is rapidly changing in recent times in The Gambia, thanks largely to Gamcotrap’s efforts in giving equal focus on the sensitisation of men on female genital mutilation and its related issues.
One such training, in which both men and women took part to learn ended with men participants admitting that men too have been unspared by the effects of FGM and expressed resolve to join the crusade in protecting women and girls.
“This is not the time for apportioning blame and complaining. What we need to do is chart way forward regarding women’s health”, Councilor for Lamin Ward, Fabakary Manneh told Women’s Bantabaa.
“It is time to think of positive ways to motivate our wives and girl child and also to end female genital mutilation. We should be willing to make a necessary compromise because when women are affected, men are affected, too.”
He said he never dreamt of women expressing their view, by making their sufferings known to the whole world. “I always thought: Should women bear the brunt of suffering and die in silence, while we men fold our hands,” Manneh added.
“I am asking Gambian men to be a stronger part in the fight against FGM, which inspite its horible effects, it is still being widely practiced in some communities,” said Ebrima Bojang, Alkalo of Lamin.
Mr Bojang said, it is part of their culture but other women are slowly resisting this move, which has been pointed out many times as pre-Islamic in African practice that affected Christians, Muslims and animists alike.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 100 million to 140 million girls and women worldwide have been circumcised.
Cultural, religious and social factors have helped keep the practice alive among those who believe it will reduce promiscuity and take away sexual pleasure or desire.
“No man owns a woman and no one have the right to force his or her girl child to undergo the practice. I feel sad when I see girls crying in severe pain,” said Momodou Sanneh a resident of Babylon whose girl child were unspared by the practice.
“I have watched my daughter suffer in the hands of circumcisers. I had enough and began my rebellion to free other innocent girls for them not suffer like the way women who underwent the practice.
“After attending this three-day training, I am convinced that the practice should not be allowed to continue under the guise of tradition or religion,” he said.
“Any man who cannot be convinced that FGM affects the health of women should know that the rights of their girl child should not be tampered with. Now is the right time to wipe the tears of the girl child or should be wiped right now, than later.”
“Had I known,” said Alasana Bah, a resident of Nema Kunku, “none of my female children will undergo the practice.”
The Islamic scholar added: “From the first chapter of the Qur’an to the end, there is no Surah (verse) which indicates that a woman should be circumcised and I can say publicly that FGM is not an Islamic prescription.”
According to Bah, majority of the women who were circumcised were not mutilated based on the religious perspective but they found their ancestors doing it culturally.
“I keep wondering why they need to undergo such suffering. Women are our wives, mothers, and daughters. I don’t think it is human to see them languishing in pain,” said Ousman Jarju of Banjulinding.
He said, communication is the key to maintenance of health. “Be friends with your wives and children and share your views. Keep thinking about what you can do to bring about the best qualities of the health of your girl child,” he added. According to these men there is need to work with women in matters relating to FGM if this war is to be won. They revealed that men need to encourage women to be active in the fight against the practice.
“Life is much easier when you know the things that make life miserable and unbearable. We all need to feel the pain our daughters went through.” This man who could not put himself together said, “I don’t think my daughters will ever forgive me.”
Bakary Jobe of Abuko added: “It is sad to see one’s daughter suffering and will never say daddy I am dying”.
Lamin AK Fofana, health worker attached to the Busumbala Health Center told Women’s Bantabaa that the practice has many implications.
“I attended women at the clinic whose private parts are very abnormal. In the sense it change the formation and they do suffer a lot during delivery, which I came to realised was caused by FGM.”
“This ordeal” he said, “has caused many women to develop a genital malformation.”
Fofana fears that the practice of FGM is fueling the spread of HIV in numerous communities.
Mr Fofana who also serves as the community based facilitator for GAMCOTRAP said it can cause the worst of abnormality in women. “In some cases, cutting during delivery can increase risk of maternal morbidity rate among babies born to women who have undergone the practice.”
“I almost collapsed last month when my wife called from the village that she was going to circumcise our girl child. We went further to look at the issue of childbirth, and he was quick to add that existing scar tissue on excised women may tear and those whose genitals have been tightly closed, have to be cut to allow delivery.”
Female genital mutilation is a violation of basic human rights principles, as stipulated in Article 24.3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
The cutting is usually carried out by older women with knives, razor blades and according to the World Health Organization the practice causes severe pain and has several immediate and long term health consequences.
The practice is internationally recognized as a violation of human right and many countries has put in place polices and legislation to ban it but the Gambia is yet to ban it. Many communities seem to show less support for the practice and therefore the global drive to eliminate the practice is proving difficult.
It has to be clear that the vast differences among Muslim and traditional societies make most generalisations too simplistic. There is a wide spectrum of mixed attitudes towards women and girls today.
For Mbackeh Sanneh he usually had a push and pull with his wife who insists that their first child will not be circumcised. “I swear to her that I will take action against her if she takes my child to the circumcisers”
“A man’s responsibility is to protect with honesty and fairness to his family. That is my interest: “to carry out the duties of a caring father.”
“These attitudes” he said, “vary from one society to another and within each individual society certain general trends are discernible. So let’s at least respect the women’s bodily integrity and their health”
Sanneh was among the men who were trained on the implication of Female Genital Mutilation recently by GAMCOTRAP in Lamin village, Kombo North, West Coast Region and has called for an end to it.
GAMCOTRAP is one of the leading organizations working in the area of women and girls’ empowerment, FGM and other harmful practices that affect the lives and circumstances of women and girls in the Gambia.
GAMCOTRAP’s years of struggle and countless efforts have contributed significantly to be development of women and girls in the Gambia and elsewhere and has led to over 100(one hundred) circumcisers dropping their knives publicly and abandoning the practice.