Religious Leaders Sensitised On FGM

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Gambian Religious Leaders meeting with Gamcotrap

Gambian Religious Leaders meeting with Gamcotrap

The global campaign to eradicate female genital mutilation “FGM” has been going on for three decades and it is all geared towards raising awareness about the harmful effects and practice on innocent girls and women.

In the Gambia despite all the conventions signed and policies in place to protect women and girl-children, the debate has been dominated by misconceptions about FGM and Religion, resulting to communities subjecting their children to FGM. However, over the years through awareness creation, 900 communities and 128 circumcisers have been empowered to protect girls from this harmful traditional practice which affects the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls as well as undermines the dignity of women. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a violation of human rights and a form of violence against women and girls.

The convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) called on state parties to eliminate such a harmful traditional practices. The African Union Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, explicitly calls on states to prohibit and condemn FGM through awareness creation and enacting of laws in order to eliminate the practice. The Gambia has ratified these treaties over the years, members of relevant ministries, parliamentarians and civil society actors have dedicated attention to discussions on measures to be undertaken to fulfil these obligations. “The advocacy and social mobilisation of the population has been very effective and we are seeing phenomenal changes in perceptions and families protecting their children against such practices” the released stated.

The released indicates that effective national legislation is a vital component of efforts to accelerate the elimination of FGM. The enactment and implementation of legislation against FGM demonstrates a formal, explicit and lasting commitment by public authorities to turning the tide of social norms that perpetuate the practice and are detrimental to women and girls.  Furthermore, the law can also provide the legal tools to legitimise and facilitate the work of anti-FGM activists and women’s right groups, and to protect women and girls willing to challenge the social convention by refusing to undergo FGM.  Conversely, an absence of legislation contributes to the perception of FGM as “acceptable” and further exposes girls and women to the high risk of FGM weakens the legitimacy and impact of government’s policies.

It is observed that achieving substantive equality for the girl-child and creating a protective environment with regards to certain HTPs and shrouded in religious misconceptions making the debate difficult for anti-FGM advocates. FGM has been wrongly associated with Islam in the Gambia and this misconception is strongly held by some religious scholars who have used their privilege positions to influence the debate negatively and sending the wrong signals that undermines government efforts. The legislators hide behind these misconceptions reneging their constitutional responsibility to women in the Gambia. In the light of the great progress registered over the years it is always a suggestion from communities that GAMCOTRAP should invite other Muslim countries to share their knowledge on FGM and Islam.

To further these developments, Save The Children and the Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP) will organize a two day National Dialogue Workshop from the 27-28 February 2014 bringing together religious scholars and academics from Mauritania, Senegal and La Guinea to The Gambia.

At the national level,  representatives of Imams and Religious Scholars from different regions, The supreme Islam Council, Chiefs, women and youth leaders, relevant government ministries and the coalition of NGOs against FGM to engage in dialogue regarding the religious perspectives on FGM and Islam. The workshop on knowledge-sharing is intended to address misconceptions about Islam and FGM and the need to facilitate for enactment of national legislation, and to encourage wider knowledge sharing and discussions among religious scholars and all the relevant stakeholders.

The Gambia has ratified almost all the international and regional conventions/instruments regarding women and children’s rights thus showing the political will and commitment to advance the strategic interest and human rights of women and girl-children.

Thus the environment is positive for reform of laws or enactment of new laws to protect women and girl-children from harmful traditional practices that are inimical to their health and wellbeing. Currently the Children’s Act 2005 and other new laws promoting women’s rights are in place but do not specifically prohibit FGM because of the lack of a clear religious position on FGM, thus allowing innocent girls and women to be abused in the name of culture and religion.

It is expected that after a constructive debate, and sensitisation on the effects of FGM on women and children’s sexual and reproductive health rights, religious leaders will come to consensus that FGM is not a religious obligation, government will pass a specific law to protect girls from FGM and empower more people to protect girls.

Founded in 1984, The Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP) is one of the leading Women’s Rights NGOs in The Gambia, focusing its work on the rights of women and children with a particular campaign against harmful traditional practices affecting the health of women and children, especially FGM and child marriage.  Among the activities undertaken has been the organisation of training workshops on the rights of the child and on sexual and reproductive health for the policy makers, different target groups as well as other advocacy aimed at the full ratification of the various relevant international human rights treaties and their subsequent implementation. The organisation has engaged in grassroots activism to end HTP in particular FGM.

Save the Children (SC) Female Genital Mutilation Program works towards a political, legal and social environment that challenges attitudes and behaviours on FGM and promotes its elimination, in the context of the promotion and protection of the rights of children. Over the years, SC has supported local initiatives all over the world and organised numerous conferences, seminars and workshops aimed at raising awareness and stimulating political commitment within institutions and among decision makers and politicians. Similarly, community and opinion leaders able to influence and promote policy-making and legislation, fostering trans-national and regional cooperation and coordination, as positive and lasting tools for social change, in order to help to turn the tide of social norms against FGM as well as create a protective environment for children. Save the Children has over the years committed both financial and technical support to promote the rights of children and influencing child friendly policies.

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Gambian Religious Leaders with Gamcotrap

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