AT SOTUMA SERE: 38 Communities in URR, The Gambia, abandon Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
Wednesday, January 08, 2014
At least 38 communities in the seven districts of Upper River Region (URR) have publicly declared their abandonment of FGM, early marriage and other harmful traditional practices affecting the women of the region.
The declaration ceremony, which was organised by the community and sponsored by Tostan, was held in Sotuma Sere in the Jimara District in URR. The governor of the Region, the national coordinator of Tostan International The Gambia, Tostan officials, URR TAC members, chief, security officers, circumcisers in the region and cross section of the community attended the event.
This declaration followed a three-year community empowerment sensitisation programme initiated by Tostan-Unicef on the harmful effects of FGC and its related issues in our societies.
The occasion created a platform for people in all walks of life to witness the outstanding achievements registered by Tostan and its partners in empowering communities, particularly the young ones, to get educated and subsequently free themselves from some harmful traditional practices such as FGC and forceful marriages.
“Today, we solemnly and with full knowledge engage in abandoning the practice of Female Genital Cutting and early and forced marriage in our communities,” Kaddy Sissoko, read the declaration on behalf of the communities.
She commended Tostan, the Government of The Gambia, UNICEF and other development partners for supporting the programme. She explained that their historical decision, which aimed to reinforce the National Movement for the Promotion of Human Rights in The Gambia, in Africa and the rest of the world, is based on the community initiatives originated in Tostan Community Empowerment Programme, in partnership with the Government of the Gambia, UNICEF, Swedish Post Code, and Nike GM since 2006.
Sissoko indicated that with these communities, they were reinforced with sensitisation activities and social mobilisation. “Thus we join the historical movement that started in Malicounda Bambara in Senegal in 1997 and which has not ceased to shine in our region and everywhere in the neighbouring Senegal, where 6000 communities have abandoned the practices of FGC, and early and forced marriage for the sake of girls and women’s health,” she remarked.
She thus expressed gratitude to the government of The Gambia through the Office of the Vice President and the Ministry of Women Affairs, Women’s Bureau and development partners, especially UNICEF for their constant support towards the empowerment of their dear communities.
In his closing remarks, the governor of the region, Omar Sampo Ceesay noted the significance of the forum, and acknowledged that since the establishment of Tostan in the country and the region at large in 2006, it has provided the communities with lots of capacity building trainings. The organisation he added is contributing immensely towards nation building.
He therefore reaffirmed his office’s continuous support to the project and equally urged development partners to support Tostan in its quest to empower the communities. The governor then assured that government is aware of their efforts, indicating that it is committed to ensuring that it brings projects to the country that will help the community participate in the realisation of the development aspirations of the country.
Further with government’s commitment, Governor Ceesay noted that the leadership of President Jammeh is committed towards women, manifested by its ratification of the Women’s Domestic Bill.
He finally urged the beneficiary communities to utilise the knowledge gained from their programmes. “We at the governor’s office know the benefit that the project has brought to the communities but what is left is for us to settle our differences and nature unity among ourselves,” the governor advised.
The chairperson of the steering committee, Muhammed J Sankano thanked Tostan for their support to the region. He informed that Tostan Community Empowerment Programme is not only focusing on FGC, but that it is a holistic approach to community-led sustainable development. He highlighted such issues as democracy, good governance, human rights, problem solving, health and hygiene, literacy and management skills amongst others as part of the programme.
Sankano however indicated that Tostan programmes couldn’t achieve these major successes without the continuous support and collaboration of the National Women’s Bureau and the Gambia Government for creating an enabling environment and support.
He indicated that the sustainability of the project and programme is a concern to the donors and project funders. “It is therefore incumbent on you, the intervention communities, CMCs and the VDCs to work together to sustain the project activities after the project phases out, as you have learnt the skills and strategies of sustaining the project,” he emphasised to the gathering.
The programme officer of Women Bureau in URR Kaddy Janneh thanked Tostan for their participation in the development of the country and the region at large.
She affirmed that since the coming of the project to the region, it has created awareness on lots of issues and also built their capacities on many important issues; ranging from democracy, human rights, among others. “Today witnesses a historical social infrastructure that will immensely contribute to the promotion and protection of human welfare and quality of life, especially the welfare of women and children in the region and the country at large”, Janneh noted.
Seedy Touray of Gambisara Health Centre also recognised the importance of the declaration, while commending the government of The Gambia for their efforts in such endeavours.
Among others speakers at the occasion were the acting chairman of Basse Area Council, Jahara Juwara and the National Assembly member for Jimara District, Habiboulie Jawo and Saikouna Bajaha.
With reports from Momodou Jawo in Basse, URR. Modifed by NTIXANNEN
See PHOTO NEWS. NTI XANNEN Prince Bubacarr Aminata Sankanu's November 2012 taboo-free meeting with the communities on the subject...
Spanish Judges sentence Gambians to 12 years in jail for FGM
Female Genital Mutilation commonly known as FGM is now becoming more of an issue not only in the United Kingdom, but also in other parts of Europe, especially within the West Africans including the Gambian community.
Some argued that it is a tradition they vowed to preserve, thus in constant conflict with the law. The issue is sometimes emotional and vocal, especially in the vibrant media here, but not until recently when it started to gain momentum in the courts.
A panel of judges at the Provincial Court in Barcelona, Spain, has proven the latter and unanimously ruled that two Gambian nationals were ‘criminally responsible for the ‘clitoridectomy’ that was performed on their two daughters.
Interestingly, the Gambians lived in Spain for about 20 years, but due to their ignorance of the law or the strong believf that such tradition cannot die a natural death, some decided to take the risk within the borders of the EU.
Both parents in fact denied knowledge of ‘what happened’ and ‘not aware that such a practice was illegal in Spain’.
Nonetheless in delivering judgment, the judges emphasised that ‘FGM is not a culture… It is mutilation and discrimination against women’.
FGM a matter still widely treated as taboo in such communities is currently talked about in the open, as some West Africans and other Africans across the continent are reluctant to stop the practice and are doing all what they could to evade the authorities and perform it underground.
In contrast, others are unwilling to return to their home claiming to be in fear that their female children will be circumcised. Whatever the case, the bottom-line is FGM is considered not only ‘unlawful’ here, but also ‘prohibited’ and ‘barbaric’.
The jailing of the Gambians is considered to be so far the toughest in Europe against, both parents Binta and Sekou (second names concealed by this correspondent for privacy reasons) because they were sentenced for 12 years.
They will serve six years for each ‘crime’. The court was also amazed to be informed that the Gambians ‘knowingly and deliberately’ mutilated their young daughters through a person of ‘unknown identity’.
The judges noted that evidence provided proven beyond reasonable doubt that the event ‘must have occurred on Spanish soil and not on a visit to Gambia, and that the parents were aware it was illegal’.
The court also confirmed that the parents were not out of the country during the said period, and that they were reportedly warned by social services who visited them earlier and discussed the issue of FGM. It added that their mother had promised not to perform it.
The judges also admitted the ‘inevitable clash of culture’ that occurs with migration, but concluded that ‘respect for cultural traditions must be limited against the respect for human rights as universally recognised’.
For this reason, a legal practitioner in Madrid, Spain, who contacted The Point regarding the issue said: “This is crucial... People’s traditions are respected, but must be within the context of the law...”
A few days ago, another Gambian lost her legal bid to stay in the UK over FGM. The 37-year-old woman (name withheld by this correspondent for her privacy), claimed to bea member of a certain tribe (also withheld for the same reason) and wanted to protect her young daughter, but her claimed was turned down following an intense legal battle by her solicitors.
Whatever the circumstance or outcome, it is clear that currently there is a serious clash between a long and ‘deep rooted tradition’ and ‘human rights’.
Due to the fact that Gambians are well known to be law-abiding, respectful and hard working, in order to avoid such a clash, it will require a serious and open debate with a respectful tone, as well as comprehensive education for those who are ignorant of EU law or regulations governing such practices.
Also prominent Gambian lawyers and other African legal practitioners are available here for any legal advice regarding these matters, and thus it is essential to consult them prior to any important legal matter to be adventured.
Author: Alhagie Mbye, The Point’s UK Correspondent.
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