By Sarjo Camara-Singateh
Following a vigorous sensitization with the communities in the different districts in the Niaminas by GAMCOTRAP, the women’s right organisation has finally won the hearts and minds of these communities to abandon the deep-rooted culture that has given rise to a series of health complications to many women who have gone through the practice. It was also made known to the practitioners and those who went through it, in the name of islam, that it is not a religious injunction. These positive moves have prepared the Niaminas for a Dropping of the Knife Ceremony in 2015.
In her introductory remarks at a training on the entrepreneurial and management skills, which took place in Kudang in the Niamina East from the 12th -14th August 2015, Dr. IsatouTouray, the Executive Director of GAMCOTRAP, reminded the meeting of the processes these circumcisers went through before the AEO training. The intention to stop the practice voluntarily came from them after they have been trained over two years using the multimedia modular package designed by GAMCOTRAP. As a result of the trainings, circumcisers have seen the consequences and accepted that the practice was not a religious obligation. In reassuring the circumcisers, she informed them that though FGM is deep-rooted and they have been involved in circumcising girls for a number of years, with the awareness creation trainings they have realised that the practice has negative effects.
She informed them the rationale for the training which is crucial to the management of their Alternative Employment Opportunities (AEO) after which they will be provided with some funds to start their businesses. The amount provided is not a loan but grant-in-aid, meant to start and sustain an alternative livelihood. The fund is also meant to substitute the small earnings received from partial or total removal of the female genitalia and should be well managed as was taught by the training consultant.
She appreciated the presence of all the circumcisers, stating that this was a sign of commitment to not only end FGM but also to protect the health and welfare of innocent children. Women have all along been deceived that FGM is a religious obligation because of their limited knowledge of the Quran. She was delighted that the circumcisers have known the truth and are prepared to change. They were informed that they now have a crucial role to play which is to educate their community members. Dr. Touray applauded the important roles that the three district chiefs have played from the onset of the campaign to date and expressed confidence that their active participation in the campaign will be visible in the forthcoming Dropping of the Knife event.
Dr. Touray said this was possible because of the partnership between GAMCOTRAP and UNFPA in Accelerating the Abandonment of Female Genital Mutilation in the Gambia; “A UNFPA – Gambia Government Country Funded Programme continues to yield positive results. Through comprehensive advocacy campaigns and trainings with community members in the three Niamina districts, consensus was reached that FGM should be eradicated. Twenty-four (24) circumcisers working in 107 communities were then identified to benefit from the AEO training”. She said as the training intensified, the names of 6 circumcisers were forwarded who also benefitted from the trainings. Two of them were from Niamina East and the four from Lower Fulladu in the Central River Region.
She noted that after a series of trainings, close monitoring and consultations with community members, feedbacks were received that these circumcisers have totally stopped FGM. “They were asked to identify a sustainable alternative employment opportunity (AEO) which they could manage at community level. The alternative employment opportunity is a scheme that provides circumcisers with a source of livelihood in exchange for the dropping of the knife or other instruments used for circumcising girls”. Dr. Touray said a feasibility study was then carried out and their profile was also documented. Their requests were analysed and a consultant invited to train them.
Alhagie Kebba Touray, Chief of Niamina East who represented the two district chiefs declared the meeting open. In his statement, he appreciated the circumcisers for their commitment in ending FGM in their respective districts. He said, “today is an important day in the history of the circumcisers of the Niamina districts and a true reflection of the obligation you have made to stop FGM. It has been clearly proven that FGM is not a religious obligation and over the years of training you have learned a lot to make you realize that FGM is harmful and should be eradicated. Knowledge is not restricted and one must always try to seek knowledge especially women who face some of these practices affecting their health”. He gave examples of some of the consequences of FGM such as problems encountered during the consummation of marriage where the woman has to undergo severe pain. He urged them to share the knowledge gained with their communities who might coerce them into the act forgetting the commitment they made to stop FGM. He stated that in all the holy books that he has read there is no indication that FGM is stated as a religious requirement and will never subscribe to anything that goes against his religion. He advised the circumcisers that as all of them are convinced that FGM is not a religious act, and so if they continue with the practice then they will have no justification and this would mean that they are acting willfully.
Finally he informed the participants that he was relieved as many of the circumcisers have contacted him on the subject matter and all along he has educated them to maintain their stance. He told them that GAMCOTRAP has responded to their plight and has brought a consultant to train them on their various small scale enterprises. He urged the circumcisers to work together and question whatever is not clear. He said he is prepared to assist them to promote the health of women and children.
Aja Babung Sidibeh informed the gathering of her involvement in FGM in Janjanbureh, a town well known for its deep-rooted cultural heritage. She informed the circumcisers about her role during the process in “TinyangSita” a secluded area meant for FGM. She explained how she was confronted with three children who had problems and when there was no way out they were taken to the hospital just to be told that they were suffering from tetanus. This coincided with GAMCOTRAP’s visit to her place and when she came into contact with Dr. IsatouTouray who exposed her to the consequences of the practice, she reflected on them and recollected those that she experienced and witnessed, and she was convinced that there are problems associated with the practice. She said “FGM has been stopped in Janjanbureh and in CRR North and now we are witnessing another set of circumcisers from the CRR South abandoning the practice. I am confident that girls and women will be freed from the painful cuts, the sealing, problems associated with consummation of marriage and delivery. Let us be committed to stopping the practice ,it is harmful.”
The National Programme Officer – Gender, Mrs. Fatou Kinteh applauded the circumcisers for the step taken to stop FGM in their respective communities. She informed them that despite FGM is a deep rooted practice it also has serious consequences and if there is no circumciser then there would be no FGM. The training will empower them with knowledge and skills to manage their alternative source of funding.