The move by the Gambian Parliament to vote on a bill repealing the ban against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) adopted in 2015 is very worrisome and the YAWC Network in solidarity with other Female Rights Activists and organizations is condemning this action in the strongest terms. Adoption of this bill will water down the significant strides made in the eradication of FGM and may serve as a precedence for other communities. This heinous practice in the Gambian Community is underpinned by cultural and religious beliefs. YAWC Network recognizes and respects the importance of cultural and religious beliefs, which hold a significant place in the lives of individuals and communities. However, these beliefs and traditions must not come at the expense of the welfare and well-being of women and girls in our society. Moreover, international law stipulates that freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs might be subject to limitations necessary to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. Therefore, social and cultural claims cannot be evoked to justify female genital mutilation (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 18.3; UNESCO, 2001, Article 4).

Decades of prevention work undertaken by local communities, governments, and national and international organizations have contributed to a reduction in the prevalence of female genital mutilation in some areas. However, much still needs to be done. Progress has been achieved on several fronts: female genital mutilation is internationally recognized as a violation of human rights; a global goal to end the practice has been set by the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Children (UN General Assembly, 2002); policies and legislation to prohibit the practice have been put in place in many countries; and, most importantly, there are indications that processes of social change leading to abandonment of the practice are underway in many countries.

The prohibition of FGM aligns with the following commitments and conventions, which call for an end to harmful practices and gender-based violence.

International treaties:

  • Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
  • Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
  • Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  • Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees

 

Regional treaties

  • African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Banjul Charter) and its Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa
  • African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
  • European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms

Consensus documents

  • Sustainable Development Goals
  • Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women
  • General Assembly Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women
  • Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD)
  • UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity
  • United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Commission on the Status of Women.
  • Resolution on Ending Female Genital Mutilation. E/CN.6/2

Governments have legal obligations to respect, protect and promote human rights, and can be held accountable for failing to fulfill these obligations. Accordingly, governments need to take appropriate legislative, judicial, administrative, budgetary, economic and other measures to the maximum extent of their available resources. These measures ensure that all domestic legislation is compatible with the international and regional human rights treaties they have ratified.

Female Genital Mutilation constitutes an abhorrent violation of the fundamental human rights of women and girls. It infringes upon their rights to health as it causes lifelong damage to the physical, mental and emotional health of women and girls. Female genital mutilation has no known health benefits. On the contrary, it is known to be harmful to girls and women in many ways. First and foremost, it is painful and traumatic. The removal of or damage to healthy, normal genital tissue interferes with the natural functioning of the body and causes several immediate and long-term health consequences.

FGM is a deeply rooted cultural practice and has caused untold suffering for countless women and girls across the globe. Communities that practice female genital mutilation report a variety of social and religious reasons for continuing with it. Seen from a human rights perspective, the practice reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women.

There is still a glimmer of hope to block this bill from passing the final round of voting, to be promulgated into law. The Young African Women’s Congress (YAWC) Networks is sending a clarion call to all stakeholders, including government authorities, civil society organizations, religious leaders, community members, women’s rights organizations, and human rights defenders to amplify their voices in fighting against this repeal. We urge the government of the Gambia to uphold its commitment to the ban on FGM set out in the Women’s Amendment Act 2015, thereby upholding its commitment to gender equality and human rights.

Our quest is unwavering, and our resolve to eradicate FGM remains resolute.

The Young African Women Congress (YAWC) Network is a fraternity of young women of African descent living in Africa and the diaspora who seek to be empowered and be themselves, changemakers for leadership and development on the continent. Membership of the Network is segmented by Chapters based on country demarcations. However, there is a common goal which involves grassroots mobilisation of women for leadership and development through advocacy, training and projects. The Headquarters of the Network is in Accra- Ghana and there are currently eight operational Chapters on the continent namely, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya. There are currently six chapters that will be inaugurated soon. They include two diaspora chapters in the United Kingdom and three other Scandinavian countries precisely Norway, Denmark and Sweden coming together to form a chapter. The other four are Rwanda, South Africa, the Gambia and Zambia.