‘‘We Need A Stand-Alone Law On FGM’’chairperson Of Nam Select Committee On Health

By Rohey  Jadama

Honorable Ousman Sillah, the National Assembly Member for Banjul North and who also doubles as Chairperson of the National Assembly Select committee on Health, Women and Children, said ‘‘we need a stand-alone law on Female Genital Mutilation(FGM)’’.

The Honorable NAM for Banjul North was speaking at a two day orientation forum for National Assembly Members(NAMs) on GBV and research findings on Female Genital Mutilation(FGM) at a local Hotel in Bakau, in partnership with ActionAid International-The Gambia. The programme which was held from the 17th to 18th November 2017, was funded by AmplifyChange.

Delivering the official opening statement on behalf of the Speaker of the National Assembly, Honorable Ousman Sillah, said women are very key in any society; that without them society cannot exist.

‘The issue of women and children should be dear to all of us. They are issues that affect us as leaders in society, as decision makers, as members and heads of households. Gender concerns all of us’’, said the Banjul North NAM.

He said the problems facing women and girls are created by society and that it can only be removed by society but addressed through partnership.  Gender based violence and FGM is a phenomenon in our society and as the figures have shown, FGM stands at 76% of women in The Gambia, he said. This according, to him, is staggering.

‘’Women and children have inalienable rights to their dignity and to their bodies. They have rights to be in charge of their lives but as we all know they have been experiencing abuses over the years, perhaps since time immemorial and it needs to stop if we are to forge ahead as a society’’, he said

He assured of his committee’s commitment to supporting the work of NGBV in advocacy and resource allocation; that there is a law designed to protect women and that is the Women’s Act and there is an amendment to this law that criminalizes FGM.  A development he welcomed as positive but, according to Honorable Sillah, at their committee level, this is inadequate.

“We need a stand-alone law on FGM. Engage all partners to ensure that FGM is a stand-alone law and that they will be giving you all the support at the level of the National Assembly. We will be advocating and when it comes before us, we will struggle with our members. If there are members who oppose it, we will try and convince them that  opposing it means opposing  the people you are representing; it means working against the people you are supposed to be representing, the majority of whom are women”, he said.

He further urged the Network Against Gender Based Violence, NGBV, to engage all partners to ensure that FGM is a stand-alone law and that they will be given all the support at the level of the National Assembly.

The National Coordinator of NGBV Mrs. Haddy Mboge-Barrow, said her organisation and its partners conducted a research which is called the Obstetric outcome of FGM and the social research in the Gambia, to know the perception of people with regards to FGM in the country.

‘’These two researches are very important in our work in providing the needed evidence in our advocacy and awareness raising. The research findings have been validated and we are here to share it with law makers, particularly the select committee, to understand the issues’’, she said. She said the training will avail participants to know what the research findings have said so far with regards to FGM in the Gambia, so that ‘‘we cannot only rely on other research conducted in other countries,  but in our own country, with our own people and our own home grown Doctors.’’ The research according to her is being prepared to be published internationally in a health journal.

Madam Marie Antoinette Corr, the Chairperson of NGBV, said the persistence of gender based violence is of great concern to all of them; that that is why they are all gathered to talk about the issue.

‘’Violence against women and girls is one of the most serious heinous crimes of our day.  And it is widely spread human right violation. But we also know that sexual violence being an even more scandalous specificity, is a serious call for concern. It violates one of the most valuable and important human rights that is the dignity of the human being’’, she said. She continued: ‘Honorable member, the physical and psychological consequences of these crimes are long lasting for victims and often devastating. Violence creates crime, but it also creates fear and it disconnects the victim from society. Therefore, the protection of women and girls need our special attention’’.

According to Madam Corr, there cannot be any genuine equality between men and women if women experience gender based violence on a large scale; that if state agencies are passive on the matter, our partnership and solidarity is to address the many challenges confronting us today.

‘‘I see today a very strong political will and commitment to tackle gender based violence. This is positive, but we just don’t want to end here. It is only through working together that we can move mountains’’, she said.

The Executive Director of ActionAid International-The Gambia, Mr. Omar Badjie, said despite the fact that there exists a law in the Gambia criminalizing FGM, the practice still continues, even though women continue to share their stories and ordeals on what they are going through because of FGM.

‘’As a nation we need and must do everything possible, to stop FGM. The law alone is not enough. We need to engage in sensitization for people to accept that FGM is bad for their children because for the law to be applied, you really have to catch the person. But if they do it secretly and we don’t know about it, women will continue to suffer .What is best is to engage people, influence them, let them understand how it is impacting on their children, accept it and stop it on their own’’, Badjie said. He said the socialization process of both men and women has resulted in unequal power relations between men and women which is also a factor that contributes towards perpetuating gender based violence.

He went on: ‘‘ironically, women play a significant role in our upbringing, man or woman and they contribute towards reinforcing the belief that men are the key decision makers. But this is because they are also made to believe so through their own upbringing and this I am appealing and suggesting we break so that everybody understands that men and  women are all equal and all have equal opportunities and all need to be given the space to contribute towards national development’’.

He reaffirmed ActionAid’s commitment to continue working with NGBV to ensure the total elimination of all forms of gender based violence against women and girls.