158 Ex-Circumcisers of the Gambia launch a National Network

A three day conference of 158 Ex-Circumcisers in the Gambia concluded with the formation of a Network of Ex- Circumcisers in158 Ex-Circumcisers of the Gambia launch a National Network the Gambia at the Pakalinding Lodge, Lower River Region. The conference funded by UNFPA brought together old and new circumcisers committed to end FGM in the Gambia from Upper River Region, Central River Region North, Lower River Region, Fuladu and three Niamina Districts supported by their Community Based Facilitators. It enabled the ex- Circumcisers, celebrated from 2007 to 2013 to interact and share their experiences of their new status in protecting girls from FGM, as well as share their experiences of the benefits of the Alternative Employment Opportunity support they received from GAMCOTRAP, and discuss the challenges they faced and the way forward. It was also an opportunity to induct the 30 ex-circumcisers from the Niaminas who will be celebrated on the 25th of November 2015.

The meeting was chaired by Chief Alhagie Yahya Jarjusey a board member of GAMCOTRAP who was supported by five district chiefs in the Lower River Region.

In her opening remarks, The Executive Director of GAMCOTRAP Dr. Isatou Touray expressed appreciation of the positive changes realized by the Ex-circumcisers which has boosted their confidence and created greater respect for them in their communities. She highlighted the importance of empowerment and awareness in bringing about such changes and urged them to focus on the other positive roles they are playing to serve their people and continue to protect girls from FGM and Early Marriage.

The conference was graced by the Governor of the Lower River Region, Mr. Salief Puye who applauded the presence of the women. He underscored the importance of the meeting as it has brought together influential women who are well respected and honored in society to be part of the meeting. He acknowledged the hard work that the organization has embarked on over the three decades of existence which is indicated in the 2014 Annual Report circulated to him.

Ajaratou Fatou Njie the Regional Coordinator in her welcome statement informed participants of the relevance of the FGM campaign and the need to support women as a core step of the campaign. She reiterated that FGM affects innocent children who are subjected to the practice without their consent and choice. She expressed delight that all the six district chiefs in the Lower River Region were there to support the ex-circumcisers which is an indication of the importance of the meeting.

Speaking on behalf of his colleagues, Chief Alhajie Demba Sanyang and Alhajie Anusumana Kanagie celebrated the ex-circumcisers for joining GAMCOTRAP to promote the health and welfare of women and children. They recalled the early periods of the campaign how it was difficult for GAMCOTRAP but with patience, commitment and dedication the outcome is very visible. The chiefs noted the progress registered on the FGM campaign over the years and the positive responses of the Ex-Circumcisers and all the communities. They expressed their continued support for the campaign to eradicate FGM and optimism that the Parliamentarians will respond to the call for a law to prohibit the practice.

The Ex-circumcisers made very rich testimonies reflecting their communal roles and their small scale businesses provided by the project. Amongst those who shared success stories was Kumba Damba of Makka Masireh who is operating a milling machine serving 15 communities in her cluster in Wuli East.

Amongst the issues recommended was the need for a national network of ex-circumcisers where they would meet and discuss as a group. They also called for support to sustain the AEO as well as provide refresher training on the management of AEO. It was emphasized that as Ex-Circumcisers they would come together to demand for a law prohibiting FGM and questioned why the state is not prohibiting FGM in the light of the several abandonments by circumcisers across the regions to end FGM. They strongly emphasized the non- replacement of circumcisers in their communities or allow mobile circumcisers to come into their communities.

In fulfilling one of the recommendations the conference participants unanimously nominated Aja Babung Sidibeh as President of the Network. In her acceptance speech she recalled the leadership roles she has played and continued to play in the development of the country and noted that it is a similar motivation that led her to be associated with the campaign to end FGM in the Gambia. Supporting her nomination, Aja Jontang Jawneh of Kuntaur a well known Circumciser who dropped her knife in 2013 told her colleagues that they will not regret choosing Aja Babung as their President because of her leadership skills and interest in promoting the rights of women and children. They recommended that annual conference of ex-circumcisers Network be held and suggested that the venue be rotated to different regions of the Gambia. They also called for regional networks of ex-circumcisers to facilitate communication amongst members, registration and resource mobilization to support the network. They pledged to come up with a plan of action for the Network.

In his closing remark, Chief Yaya Jarjusey also a board member of GAMCOTRAP encouraged the organization to continue the good work in promoting the rights of women and equal participation of women and men in decision making. He advised the Ex-Circumcisers to stand firm in their decision to end FGM and to share the knowledge gained.

Meanwhile, GAMCOTRAP has concluded a three day consultation held in Dankunku, Pinai and Kerewan Touray in the three Niamina districts. The consultation was to build consensus on ending FGM in the region and plan for the upcoming Dropping of the Knife celebration, a public declaration to be made by 30 Circumcisers and 115 communities scheduled for 25th November 2015 at Jareng, in Niamina East of the Central River Region of the Gambia. The consensus building brought together community leaders including Alkalolu, women and youth leaders, Circumcisers in the districts and community based facilitators to finally reach consensus on the eradication of FGM in the region. After a consensus was reached in the presence of their district chiefs they engaged on the planning and preparations for a public declaration to end FGM in their communities and protect girls from FGM, early marriage and other forms of violence against women and girls.

In its efforts to intensify the campaign to end FGM in the Gambia, GAMCOTRAP reached out to eight communities during a sensitization workshop conducted in Sare Louba in the Lower Fuladu district close to the border area with Senegal on the South Eastern part of the Gambia. Two circumcisers, Penda Wuri Baldeh and Teneng Baldeh were identified and they were trained at an earlier training workshop held for circumcisers in Kudang. Having committed to stop the practice, they initiated a sensitization meeting and were supported by the eight communities they served. According to the village head, Yero Dem, FGM is a cultural practice that has been long held but they are committed to stop the practice and thanked the circumcisers for bringing such awareness creation activity to their people. Alkalo Dem appreciated the respect accorded to his people and those of the surrounding villages and appreciated the fact that nobody forced them but it was through their own conviction that they supported the campaign to end FGM.

In response, the Executive Director of GAMCOTRAP, Dr. Isatou Touray said her organization is out to raise the consciousness of communities about FGM and other harmful practices and to support circumcisers for taking the decision to protect girls from such practices. It is in such a context that circumcisers are supported to engage in alternative income earning ventures as AEO. It was noted that it was through the project in the Niaminas that the Sare Louba circumcisers were discovered.

Commenting on FGM, Modou Jallow of Sare Louba noted “I’m aware that it affects women and causes bleeding. Some are subjected to it a second time when they get married. I am not knowledgeable in the Quran but I support its eradication.” Similar statement have been made by Metta Baldeh “Families are suffering and we appreciate the sensitization to end FGM”. The women’s leader, Assata Sabally of Sare Louba said “We are now aware, women used to suffer because girls bleed and suffocate and we start accusing others of being witches. I thank the circumcisers Teneng and Wuri for the initiative.

Participants expressed appreciation of the opportunity to attend the sensitization and support the campaign to end FGM. Other issues raised included the abuse of school girls and poverty amongst family members.

Prepared by GAMCOTRAP

15th October 2015