‘Dropping the knife’ symbolizes public declaration of abandonment of the deep-seated cultural practice of FGM, which has been scientifically proven inimical to the health and wellbeing of women, yet widely practiced.
“The dropping of the knife today is historic and add up to the change taking place in the promotion of the health and rights of Gambian women and children,” Dr Isatou Touray, Executive Director of GAMCOTRAP told the gathering of various women groups, local government heads, among others.
The event was the third of its kind organised by her organisation, GAMCOTRAP, who has taken the lead in the fight against FGM, through painstaking and costly sensitisation programmes.
Through its various funders, the women’s right body also provides alternative sources of income for circumcisers by facilitating the creation of small-scale business ventures to those who hitherto earn income from the practice.
“Dropping the knife of a circumciser is not an easy task especially when it is inherited,” said Madam Fatou Kinteh, a representative of UNFPA, one of the main funders of GAMCOTRAP’s activities.
She assured that her agency will continue to support efforts geared towards accelerating the eradication of FGM.
The first ever public declaration of dropping the knife was held in 2007 at the Independence Stadium in Bakau where eighteen women circumcisers publicly vowed to abandon female circumcision. This was followed by a bigger one held in the provincial capital of Upper River Region, Basse, in 2009 where over 60 women circumcisers have also declared to have stopped the practice.
Dressed uniformly in traditional Gambian costume, the women who have abandoned the practice danced alongside with women rights activists, in a manner that added credence to the celebration. The day-long programme also witnessed the performance of Kora maestro, Jaliba Kuyateh.
The former women circumcisers have stated that they have not only abandoned the practice, but regretted doing a bad practice that they hitherto deemed good. They even transform some of those messages into biting lyrics.
“You can only demand your rights when you know what right you have, and can only execute the rights when you know for what purpose,” Dr Touray believes.
Female circumcision is widely practiced in The Gambia. It had been a taboo to discuss the subject in public and the campaign against it had witnessed stiff resistance from the communities, including women, with both verbal and physical attacks on the activists.
The practice is done for various reasons, including reducing the sexual desire of a woman to avoid promiscuity and purification of women.
However, the rough times appear to be rapidly fading away and enlightenment of its dangers and lack of justification is seeping though.
After series of training, the National Assembly in 2010 declared intention to support any bill that prohibits FGM in The Gambia.
Gambian President Yahya Jammeh who had once forbidden the discussion of the topic in public can also be quoted as saying that he is not in support of the practice.
Although some international protocols such as the CEDAW, which Gambia signed and ratified clearly outlawed all forms of harmful traditional practices, rights activists believe that there is a crisis in its application.
With virtually no law in place to prohibit the practice, reports have it that that some women from neighbouring Senegal, where it has been outlawed, are coming into The Gambia to circumcise their girls.