Thursday, July 28, 2011

“Circumcisers Should Not Be Blamed” Hope for Forgiveness

Ramata Sonko

Scores of women, who recently dropped their knives and vowed to stop female circumcision in a bid to promote the health of women, said they should not be blamed for their preceding actions because they were not aware of the consequences that the practice can caused  to girls and women.
As much as these women regretted the act, they don’t want to take a morsel of blamed.
“I thought it was tradition and deep rooted culture which can never be change,” said one of the knife droppers Kaddy Sallah of Munkulata village.
“I don’t think I should be held responsible but hope that the young girls whom I have mutilated will forgive me.”

“I would not have known if it was not the intervention of the  Gambia Committee for Traditional Practices (GAMCOTRAP), who has taken the lead to protect and save girls from the harmful practice,” she added.
GAMCOTRAP have over the years been very active and effective in the promotion of gender, women and children’s rights, particularly those relate to female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and other discriminatory practices.
Kaddy said she has been doing the practice for more than 20 years and have mutilated hundreds of girls and women.
 “It was not intentional. I didn’t know that it affects the health of women. When I think about the consequences now, I cried.”   
In The Gambia, many circumcisers continued to mutilate girls and women for different reasons but those who spoke to Musoolula Bantabaa (Women’s Forum) during the dropping of the knife ceremony in Lower River Region, said they do it because it is a tradition that they have inherited from their ancestors.
 “We were doing it because we do not want to fail our ancestors and tradition,” Jaranding Kanteh of Jarra Sutukung village  told Women’s Bantabaa.
 “It is part of our culture but I’m now resisting this move,” Kanteh added 
She said that anybody who is doing the act now is just defiant but knew the consequences of the practice.
“I regret the act because I circumcised two granddaughters. If I had known that it does not go well with the health of women, my granddaughters would not have gone under the practice.”

Fortunately in the Jarra West, many men in the region and throughout Lower River Region discouraged circumcisers from the practice.
We have paid respect to ancient traditional practices for so long that rights of women and girls are ignored for a non beneficial practice. The health of our children is more important than tradition,” Alhaji Yayha Jarjusey, Chief of Jarra West emphasised.
However, the victims alone are not frustrated but the circumcisers too, especially when they came to know the harmfulness of the practice.
According to Penda Jallow of Njoba Kunda, Jarra Pankandala most circumcisers lost their sight when getting old due to the practice.
“I almost lost my left eye and it still pains me and I do not see clearly.”
She said it will be wrong judgment if they (circumcisers) should be blamed for violating the rights of the girl child.
“Why should I destroy the future leaders of my village and my country? They are our resources and we should protect them with dignity.  I am deeply worried about the marital lives of the girls I have mutilated.”
According to Ramata Sonko of Badumeng village, most women are not verse and have no knowledge about the Qur’an.
“We do what we are told; especially men who tend to master the words of God. Had it been we were given the chance to read it we will have defended ourselves.”

The ritual of FGM must be seen in the context of culture which many circumcisers believed cannot be abandon, especially when they have inherited it from their parents.
“Today I deeply regretted it. I thought I was doing well by cleansing our young girls and women not knowing that I was destroying their future.”
Ramata said circumcisers including herself were not realizing that they can contribute in changing bad cultural trends of society that continue to affect women.
Good legislation and punishment of the circumcisers will yield fruits but The Gambia is yet to ban it despite many pressures from women’s rights activists
FGM is often practiced during school holidays, especially in September, throughout The Gambia, mostly in the rural areas.
Many circumcisers travelled from one village to another to mutilate girls and women.
 “We do it because that is where we earn our living from and generate income for other basic needs,” she said.
Jarro Fatty, ex-circumcisers who abandoned the practice since 2009 and promised to promote women’s health during the dropping of knives in Basse,  said the third dropping of the  knife is a day of reflection on how girls have  suffered in the hands of circumcisers.
 “For me, this day is a day of purifying our thoughts and thinking of tradition that have left our daughters languishing in pain, ” she said.

The old woman, in her 70s explained how the process includes the removal of all the external genitalia where the vaginal opening is, then stitched closed, leaving only a small passage.”
“We were doing it but we knew it is very painful, especially in the first one week when you are passing urine. I have now joined the fight to combat injustice against women,” she declared.
 Most circumcisers do not even have medical training, so the risk of making blunders during the mutilation is very high.
 “Most of the circumcisers used tomato paste as medicine,” she said.  
These women believed that more investment on rural women, especially women circumcisers could create a virtuous circle for better health condition of women.
Researches have revealed that the prevalence of FGM and early marriage in The Gambia is 78 percent.

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