Why Gambia MPs want FGM re-legalised

A traditional female genital mutilation cutter in Tana River County displays her tools of trade. Gambia has taken steps to lift a ban on FGM, a move that could make it the first country in the world to reverse legal protections against the practice for millions of women and girls.

Photo credit: | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Almameh Gibba, is the MP who introduced the private members’ bill - The Women Amendment Bill 2024.
  • The MPs last Monday voted 42 to four, to advance the controversial bill to the next stage.
  • Scholar from Sierra Leone Ms Fuambai Sia Nyoko Ahmadu, said women can now reclaim their bodies from anti-FGM activists.

Women and girls in Gambia could be staring at the re-introduction of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the country if their lawmakers’ plans come to pass.

The West African country has taken steps to lift a ban on female cut, a move that could make it the first country in the world to reverse legal protections against the practice for millions of women and girls.

Almameh Gibba, the MP who introduced the private members’ bill (The Women Amendment Bill 2024), argues that the ban violated citizens’ rights to “practise their culture and religion” in the country where Muslims are the majority.

Subsequently, the MPs last Monday voted 42 to four, to advance the controversial bill to the next stage.

Once passed, it will repeal a landmark 2015 ban on FGM that made the practice punishable by up to three years in prison

“The bill seeks to uphold religious loyalty and safeguard cultural norms and values,” Mr Gibba told journalists in Banjul.

The move has raised a major storm with activists and rights organisations saying the proposed legislation reverses years of progress, and risks damaging the country’s human rights record.

The United Nations office in the country is among organisations that have condemned the intended move.

“The UN office in The Gambia continues to take note of the calls to repeal the women’s Amendments Act (2015) prohibiting FGM in the country. The organisation expresses serious concerns over the introduction of a Private Members’ Bill, The Women’s (Amendment) Bill, 2024, that seeks to lift the ban on FGM,” the UN office said in a statement.

Human rights law

The UN added the 2015 Act, a vital legal instrument, would reverse gains made regarding the wholesome protection of the rights of women and girls, and would contravene the country’s obligations under international human rights law and continental policy documents.

These include the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the Convention of the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw), the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa commonly known as Maputo protocol.

Tony Mwebia, the founder of Men End FGM Foundation in Kenya, termed the Gambian parliament move as unfortunate.

“It is sad that people of MPs’ status would do that. I doubt they really know what FGM entails. The lawmakers need to be sensitised on what the cutting and its implications mean to the girls and women,” Mr Mwebia told nation.africa in a phone interview.

Proud of MPs' move

Mwebia’s organisation leads a campaign to lobby stakeholders to prevail upon men to join the fight against FGM.

There are people, however, who have welcomed the Gambia MPs’ move to lift the FGM ban, terming it long overdue.

A scholar from Sierra Leone identified as Fuambai Sia Nyoko Ahmadu, said she is proud of the MPs’ determination.

“A special recognition to Almameh Gibba, the independent MP who struggled to have the bill gazetted and is its most adamant sponsor! A shout out to our very own Gambian Women; they are now free to choose. We had a short time to wake up from our post-Covid slumber and make our voices heard loud and clear, behind the scenes, to the powers-that-be inside and outside of The Gambia. We can now reclaim our bodies from anti-FGM activists and restore the honour of our mothers and grandmothers,” Ms Ahmadu posted on her Facebook page.

In a bid to reverse the unfortunate move, the Gambia government in conjunction with stakeholder recently organised The Gambia’s National Conference on FGM. Participants unanimously reiterated that the practice that is deeply rooted in the country’s culture is harmful.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef), at least 30 million women, globally, have undergone FGM in the past eight years.

For the 1.36 million women and girls in Gambia who face its danger, their hope lies with the parliamentary committee, tasked with studying the bill before returning it to parliament for a third reading.

UN data indicates FGM prevalence in the West African nation has fallen since former president Yahya Jammeh banned it in 2015.

More than 70 per cent of women who have undergone FGM in Gambia have been associated with poor obstetric and neonatal outcomes with degree of risk correlating with the severity of FGM.

A study titled Obstetric outcome of female genital mutilation in the Gambia conducted a few years ago, revealed the risk of postpartum haemorrhage was doubled for women with type I FGM, tripled in those who had undergone type II FGM, and increased five-fold for those who had been subjected to type III FGM.