By: Kebba AF Touray
The National Assembly members of the Gambia have opposed the banning of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the country.
The members disclosed their opposition to the banning of the practice on Monday, 11 September 2023 while reacting to the statement made by the member for Central Baddibu, Hon. Sulayman Saho.
Saho condemned the ban while delivering a statement on FGM, in accordance with clauses 51 (1) and (2) of the standing orders of the National Assembly. He said FGM is a call for concern.
“Honorable Members with the above citation we need dialogue on this matter rather than arresting our mothers and sisters to be arraigned before the courts. This is creating discord among those who practice it as a culture and religion. In my opinion, it should be a matter of choice rather than ban the act because of findings being received from the West,” he said.
He stressed that the practice of FGM has both religious and cultural dimensions and has been practiced since time memorial and handed down from one generation to another.
He reported that some decades ago, there were activists who launched a campaign against the traditional practice with the support of NGOs.
The advocacy, he said, continues to highlight the negative outcomes but the proponents and those practicing FGM advanced certain advantages until former President Jammeh made a pronouncement in his hometown of Kanilia to ban FGM.
He remarked, “The pronouncement was followed by an enactment of legislation by this humble assembly to criminalize the act of FGM. The practice exists in secret and is no longer characterized by cultural displays or songs dance or traditional dresses.”
He told the assembly that the 1997 constitution clearly spells out the right to practice one’s religion and culture and these are enshrined in chapter 17 sub-sections 2 and sub-section 32.
Saho added that whoever believes that it affects the health of women should render support to them with materials to promote hygiene and sanitation, as banning the act infringes on the rights of others and serves as a recipe for violence in the country.
This country, he said, has a record of stability and there is need for concerted efforts to revisit the act that criminalizes FGM
Subsequently, after his statements, other lawmakers weighed in on the matter by opposing the banning of FGM.
The member for Foni Brefet, Hon. Amie Colley, said: “As a Muslim woman of the Gambia, I am ashamed to stand here in this august assembly of the Gambia to talk about FGM, the secret of women, the Islam-phobias and the people who are standing to ban Islam and the people who are fighting our religion”.
“What they want is the practice to be neutralized and that if any tribe wants to practice should do so, and if any tribe does not want to practice it should stay out of it”.
Member for Sami Constituency, Hon. Alfusainey Ceesay, said that a law is meant to protect citizens and that any law that torments citizens should be amended.
“The issue of FGM should be a choice and whoever wants to practice it should be free to do so. This law was passed in this very House (during the time of Ex-President Jammeh). We have to be very careful when making laws. Let’s not rush. When these technicians come with their plans you have to scrutinize them, because the blame is now on us. So, let us revisit this law”, he said.
Member for Kiang West, Hon. Lamin Ceesay said, “From a thorough consultation between us and my electorate, 99.9 percent of the electorate of Kiang West, disagree with the banning of FGM. Freedom to practice your religion is a fundamental human right, but section 32 (A) and (B) have been amended and inserted in the Women’s Act in 2015 but it is not a constitutional provision”.
The law, he said, is illegal and that supremacy of the constitution should be observed as it is consistent with the constitution, saying “This law should be revisited. It is discriminatory”.
Member for Latrikunda Sabiji, Yahya Sanyang, said there is need to repeal the law that criminalizes the act, and reechoed that it should be a matter of choice, saying the law is discriminatory.
Nominated Member Hon. Maimuna Ceesay added that “ethically none of us should tolerate such an act. The practice has been in existence in the country for quite a long time. Whoever feels like is your religious right to do it, should perform it.”
She reiterated that the practice has never gotten anyone into trouble, adding, “When the law was made there have been some arrests but no prosecution has been made, but why now.” Nominated Member Fatoumatta Jawara, asked “Why do we even allow people to be discussing it in public places all the time?”
She said that they are ashamed and embarrassed by the menace, and as representatives who derived their authority from the electorate, the citizens have their culture and called on the Health Minister to state if the practice has health implications or not.
She also supported that the practice be a matter of choice and by extension called for parliament to come up with a private member bill to repeal the law.
Member for Lower Saloum, Hon. Sanna Jawara, said the fact that the number of female lawmakers spoke against banning the FGM, speaks volumes that goes to show that the majority of Gambians are totally against banning FGM.
Member for Brikama South, Lamin J Sabbeh said that the citizens are from societies where norms and traditions are deeply rooted, saying “We have to be be very much aware of something that has been a pull factor to this country, and that is the peaceful nature of the country, which is very important”.
He added that when it comes to cultural issues in the country, the country has to be critical in making decisions, stating that coming up with decisions to prosecute the women practicing the act has generated a lot of public outcry to the extent that the people are very much worried.
This, he said, could lead to chaos in the country, and it is therefore crucial for the country to be careful when making decisions, especially as it relates to the deeply rooted culture and tradition of the people.
“I strongly believe that we have to come up with a private member bill to repeal the law. It is very much important without which we can have a problem in future. This is very sensitive and very rooted in our society”, he said.
Member for Foni Kansala, Hon Almameh Gibba said, “When you tamper with our Islamic and cultural aspect we will repeal at all forces.”
He therefore called on all the members to come with a private member’s bill to amend the bill.
He warned that an activist is trying to insinuate the arrest of an Imam, and he is part and parcel of the students of that Imam, and will not hesitate to take to the streets any day that Imam is arrested.
He said, “We will not compromise with our religion. We will not compromise our culture and will stand tooth and nail to make sure that we defend it very well”.