What INCREDIBLE news to be able to report on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
As a woman, when I think about the worst imaginable things that could ever happen to a person in their lifetime, female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C) is definitely up there. Although probably one of the most barbaric and invasive acts of violence that could ever be perpetrated against a woman, this practice is still heavily ingrained in many societies, leaving millions of girls and women at risk across the globe every year.
A 2013 UNICEF report on the subject estimates that 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where FGM/C is concentrated. Steeped in ritual and ancient superstition, there is evidence the practice of FGM/C is more widespread than these 29 countries, however, there is not sufficient data to be able to track the exact figures for girls at risk in countries such as Colombia, Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia and parts of Indonesia and Malaysia.
What is FGM/C?
FGM/C involves cutting the female genitalia to remove the labia and clitoris and can be conducted a few days after birth to puberty and beyond. UNICEF reports that in half the countries for which national figures are available, most girls are cut before the age of five. The procedure is extremely high risk and often leads to lifelong health complications, including bleeding, infections, vaginal pain, infertility and in some cases, death.
In Gambia an estimated 76% of females have been subjected to FGM/C, including 56% of under-14s. This is a relatively high percentage and gives an indication of the turnaround the country has had on this practice. A 2015 report by 28 Too Many even stated that: “FGM will be not be stopped in The Gambia by the end of 2015” – showing just how huge this latest news is.
Contradictory to perceptions of support for FGM/C, in Gambia backing for the continuation of the practice is strongest among the country’s richest women and even varies dramatically in different ethnic communities, with 84% of Mandinka women supporting the continuation of FGM/C compared with 12% of Wolof women for example.
The president, Yahya Jammeh, said on Monday that the controversial surgical intervention would be outlawed. He said the ban would come into effect immediately, though it is not clear when the government would draft legislation to enforce it. Some advocates have raised concerns about this, stating that the law needs to be passed as soon as possible in order to show the government’s commitment to this announcement.
According to the Guardian, Jaha Dukureh – an anti-FGM activist who has undergone FGM/C herself – spent the past week meeting cabinet ministers in the Gambia, showing them articles from the Guardian’s FGM campaign to inform the Gambian government about the issue.
Speaking to the Guardian she said: “I’m really amazed that the president did this. I didn’t expect this in a million years. I’m just really proud of my country and I’m really, really happy. I think the president cared about the issue, it was just something that was never brought to his attention.”
“The amazing thing is it’s election season. This could cost the president the election. He put women and girls first, this could negatively affect him, but this shows he cares more about women than losing people’s votes.”