Gambia lawmakers support FGM ban ahead of decriminalization vote News
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Gambia lawmakers support FGM ban ahead of decriminalization vote

Gambian lawmakers endorsed recommendations presented by the Joint Committee on Health and Gender on Monday to maintain the country’s ban on female genital mutilation (FGM) in anticipation of an upcoming vote later this month on the potential decriminalization of the practice. The recommendations were adopted with 35 members voting in favor, 17 voting against and two abstaining.

The recommendations come after the Women’s (Amendment) Bill 2024, sponsored by the member for Foni Kansala, Almameh Gibba, was tabled in March this year. The repeal bill was prompted by the first FGM conviction last August, in which three women were found guilty of cutting eight infant girls. At its second reading speech, the bill passed with only four parliamentarians opposed.

The bill attempts to reverse the Women’s (Amendment) Act 2015, which explicitly banned FGM on December 31, 2015. The bill was met with significant backlash by local activists who gathered outside the National Assembly of The Gambia with protest signs to boycott the bill. Many human rights organizations have called upon the Government of the Republic of The Gambia to uphold the law prohibiting FGM. If the legislation is overturned, The Gambia will be the first country to lift a ban on female circumcision.

Chairperson of the Joint Committee, the Honorable Amadou Camara, explained that repealing the ban would risk endangering women and girls and exposing them to serious health risks, in addition to perpetuating harmful gender inequalities and discrimination.

FGM is a practice that involves altering and injuring the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, which the UN claims is reflective of entrenched gender inequality in modern societies. It can lead to seriously harmful and traumatic consequences such as infection, HIV transmission, urine retention and complications during childbirth. According to a 2019-20 Gambian Demographic and Health Survey, almost three-quarters of women and girls aged between 15 and 49 in the Gambia have undergone FGM, with an additional 18 percent undergoing FGM between the ages of five and nine years old.

According to the UN General Assembly resolution 73/149, FGM is criminalized in 26 out of 29 African countries where it is traditionally practiced. Despite this, the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) reported in March this year that more than230 million girls and women worldwide have been subjected to FGM. This number represents an increase of 30 million or 15 percent compared to 2016 data.

The Joint Committee also highlighted the need for legal support and protection, in the form of shelter and counseling, for those who have undergone FGM. In addition, the Committee urged that healthcare providers should be trained to recognize the physical and psychological consequences of FMG in order to provide the appropriate medical care. Finally, the Committee emphasized the need for research into the prevalence and consequences of FGM, as well as the effectiveness of intervention.

The Committee announced that it had conferred with Islamic scholars who confirmed that FGM is not mandated by Islam, which is a claim frequently made in support of the practice.

The next stage will involve consideration of the 2024 bill by all members and a review of each clause, scheduled for later this month.