Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Gambia: Proposed FGM Bill 'Downplayed'

Anti-FGM campaigners argue that the lack of a law banning the practice weakens the legitimacy and impact of advocacy against harmful tradition practice. Activists Amie Bojang Sissoho, Dr. Isatou Touray, Amie Sillah and Mary Small at Monday's launch of One Billion Rising 2016 (Photo Credit: MSJoof/TNBES/Octover 2015)

"The proposed Bill prohibiting female genital mutilation in The Gambia [is] being downplayed and justified in the name of ‘let us allow the people to be sensitized’ while hundreds of girls are being mutilated,” Dr. Isatou Touray said on Monday.

Speaking at the launch of the One Billion Rising (OBR) 2016 at Gamcotrap’s offices in Kanifing, Dr. Touray, who is the West Africa Regional Coordinator of the Campaign to end violence against women, said a select committee of the National Assembly has been creating problems [regarding plans to legislate against FGM].

“We have written to the National Assembly and they wrote back to us saying they are not obliged to talk to civil society organisations,” she said on October 5, 2015. “…and these civil society organisations are part of the people who voted you into office.”

“The committee of five is creating problems for the National Assembly. There is no bill in The Gambia that has been lobbied more than the FGM Bill,” she argued, citing legislations like the Anti-Smoking Bill and many others which were made into law with little or no lobbying.

Dr. Touray, who is also the facilitator of the OBR in The Gambia, lamented that they have seen in recent times “the rescinding of the Mali Family Code which promotes women’s rights reduced to nothing.”

“Girls are being raped and threatened not to speak out. Girls are forced to marry and accept their situation as given. There are lots of issues that may be context specific but also global in nature,” she said. “The One Billion Revolution is all about our responses to atrocities meted on women and girls even though we may have some very few times to share pockets of hope.”

Gamcotrap has made a lot of progress in creating awareness about the dangers of FGM, which has been globally recognized as harmful, but attempts since 2012 to have the government criminalise the practice has been blocked by an apparent lack of will from the authorities.

Madam Mary Small, a health specialist at Gamcotrap, said the ministry of health has been silent about these things [about the proposed FGM bill]. “They are not doing anything, or if they are doing anything, they are doing very little,” she said responding to a question about the ministry’s position on the issue.

Amie Sillah, a gender activist and columnist, talked about violence against women and girls being an issue that cuts across the world, citing the carnage perpetrated by armed groups like ISIL/ISIS and Boko Haram.

She said the statistics on poverty and inequality in The Gambia are a cause for concern that needs paying attention to, and the mass exit of young Gambians who made perilous journeys via conflict-ravaged Libya and the Mediterranean Sea in search of better living conditions in Europe.  

Mrs. Sillah told young participants to put their destiny into their own hands by acquiring voter’s cards.

“Listen to them [the politicians] and see whose policies will address your problems and vote for him or her,” she said. “Change is what we want, let us come together to change The Gambia, change Africa and change the world.”

How many of you have voter cards, she asked, with quite a few show of hands in response. It is very important, she said, without a voter’s card you cannot [effect] change. “Our vote will give us liberty, dignity is our vote and again prosperity is our vote,” Sillah added.

She said when a neighbour’s house is on fire and one says it’s not his or her business because the neighbour belongs to a different [political] party or ethnic group – they should remember that the fire knows no party affiliation or ethnic background.

“Now what we see in the world is fire, and how are we going to quench it, is our vote, our vote is our voice and we should not be afraid,” she said.

 The OBR seeks to address poverty, economic violence, climate and environmental plunder, migration, globalization, race, gender, impunity and militarization.

The 2016 OBR revolution is meant to enlarge, to deepen, to expand, to revolutionize the campaign to end violence against women and girls.

Stakeholders including government authorities are urged to “Listen! Act! And Rise for Justice!” - As campaigners “focus on highlighting, creating and envisioning new, brave and radical artistic initiatives to bring in the new revolutionary world of equality, dignity and freedom for all women and girls.”

Written by Modou S. Joof

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