By Sarjo Camara-Singateh
The Executive Director of Gambia Committee against Harmful Traditional Practices, Promoting the Rights of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP), Dr. Isatou Touray, was interviewed to share her position with the general public on the pronouncement made by the President to ban Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), after 30 years of her institution’s nationwide campaign against this traditional practice.
FGM, as a deep rooted traditional practice, was a taboo in the society but with the intervention of Anti-FGM campaigners such as GAMCOTRAP and the others the issue is now openly discussed thus leading to its eventual pronounced banning.
Foroyaa:Dr. Touray, the President has now made a pronouncement over the national radio and TV banning Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a harmful traditional practice that your organisation has been fighting against. He was silent for a long time but has now spoken and had mentioned that for 21 years he has been doing research and has finally made a pronounciation which is yet to become law. What is your take on it?
Dr. Touray: It came as a pleasant surprise for me, a surprise I thought was belated, given the fact that Female Genital Mutilation is a very topical issue which has been debated for almost 30 years and he has played a significant part during this process of advocacy.
A lot of information was out in the public space meant to empower the public and decision makers, experts from the health narrative as well as the religious angle did have heated debates on the issue and that led to more enlightenment for the public to make informed choice. Many workshops, seminars and retreats were conducted for the various stakeholders.
For the Head of State to make the pronouncement though belated is positive in the sense that such a singular act will prevent many girls from being cut because the silence did encourage FGM practice and boost the morale of the Pro FGM campaigners. But his administration has to go further to enact a specific law to forever safeguard girls and women of the Gambia. As duty bearers, the Gambia government has signed and ratified the CEDAW (Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women), an International treaty adopted in 1979 by United Nations General Assembly which is often described as an International Bill of Rights for Women, the Maputo Protocol (the Protocol protecting the Rights of Women/Girls in Africa), and other related protocols on the rights of the child and those that govern the lives of women in the Gambia.
Now the next steps we are hoping to see is for all hands to be on deck; the state, private media institutions of all types to amplify in giving out the knowledge and information so that the public will be well informed not to go and perform the operation secretly now that they will be afraid that the President has made a pronouncement prohibiting it.
We have not regretted the trial and tribulations we have gone through just to ensure women/girls of the Gambia are protected from harmful traditional practices and it was in line with government’s development policy since the Gambia is part of the international community and has signed almost all the related conventions and protocols. History has absolved us that all our fighting is not in vain and we thank Allah for that.
To make a legislation will not be difficult. Legislation is that the Women’s Bureau and Ministry of Women’s Affairs and other related institutions should come together, follow the procedures and prepare a Cabinet Paper. They are not re-venting the wheel but the work that has been done is resource material.
In short there is a draft Bill where GAMCOTRAP with other stakeholders were instrumental. The Executive should impress upon its law makers to come out and enact the law sanctioning FGM before the end of 2015.”
The Gamcotrap Executive Director said “These are poor children who are supposed to be protected. The majority of the children are mutilated without their consent and they are not told what is going to happen to their bodies. We have a duty to protect these innocent girls and also it is the duty of the state. GAMCOTRAP will still continue to work and intensify its advocacy for the enactment of the law, to cover the other regions. Now that the president has made his pronouncement, people will stop but there is need for sensitisation also. I think there is a need to strengthen the health care system to respond to the needs of those who were affected by the impact of FGM.
Foroyaa: Are you aware that of what some people are saying that some of these women who made a vow to drop their knives will end up cutting in secret?
Dr. Touray:A lot of these things have been said to us. GAMCOTRAP is not a remote control, we are not easily used, what we do we have our Community Based facilitators who have been trained and identified by their communities and when there is a Dropping of the Knife Celebration we are 98% sure that it will never happen because it is the people who have decided and not GAMCOTRAP. They are conscious of their rights and they are aware of the effects of Female Genital Mutilation. They come and say we want to make a public declaration.”
Our strategy is people friendly and people led and it is a conclusion arrived at when they are fully sensitized on the effects of FGM and they make a conscious decision to stop the practice to protect their families.
“Even though the president was silent but with informed choice, people continued to drop their knives. This is a change from the communities.We don’t force change on them. They know that it is harmful and its not a religious injunction but misinterpretation of the religion. They were protecting their families.
I am urging the executive to ensure that public media is use for developmental purposes and not as a vehicle to increase women/girls pain and suffering because in the past the Pro FGM campaigners used it as a platform to insult GAMCOTRAP and its like.
Foroyaa: During the dropping of the knife in Niamina Jareng, you were seen in a jubilant mood.Why was this the case?
Dr. Touray:I think people appreciate the efforts that GAMCOTRAP has made during the years, we have been persecuted and prosecuted. We have been abused and we have faced a lot of ostracism, despite the fact that we continue with the advocacy. We actually tried very much to avoid subjectivism and be as objective as possible, follow our hearts and what was in the best interest of the country and what was supposed to have moved the Gambia forward and reach out to the population. People who believe that FGM was part of the religion were in gross ignorance, because of that gross ignorance they want to turn us into victims but our resilience turn us into survivors and thus we were and are still able to protect our women/children.”