Breaking Boundaries: Gambia May Revoke Ban on Female Genital Cutting

Gambia May Revoke Ban on Female Genital Cutting
Tools for practising female genital mutilation (FGM) - Copyright © africanews Brian Inganga/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved

Gambia May Revoke Ban on Female Genital Cutting

Lawmakers in Gambia are set to vote on Monday regarding legislation aimed at overturning a ban on female genital cutting implemented in 2015, potentially making the country the first to reverse such a prohibition.

Female genital cutting, also known as female genital mutilation, involves the partial or complete removal of external genitalia, often performed by traditional practitioners or health workers. This harmful practice, commonly inflicted upon young girls, is erroneously believed to control female sexuality and can result in severe bleeding and even death. Despite its dangers, female genital cutting remains prevalent in various parts of Africa.

Jaha Dukureh, the founder of Safe Hands for Girls, a local organization dedicated to ending the practice, expressed concern to The Associated Press that the repeal of this ban could pave the way for the erosion of other laws safeguarding women’s rights. Dukureh, who herself underwent the procedure and tragically witnessed her sister’s death due to complications from it, emphasized that the issue transcends religion, representing a cycle of controlling women and their bodies.

The legislation has garnered support from religious conservatives in Gambia, citing the preservation of religious purity and cultural values. The country’s top Islamic authority has even endorsed the practice as a virtue of Islam.

Gambia’s previous leader, Yahya Jammeh, surprisingly outlawed female genital cutting in 2015, catching activists off guard. However, with the proposed reversal, concerns are mounting regarding the potential regression in women’s rights and the undermining of progress made in recent years.

Opponents of the bill, including local women’s rights groups, argue that female genital cutting causes harm, backed by medical evidence. The procedure has been linked to various health complications and psychological effects, such as urinary tract infections, menstrual issues, sexual dysfunction, and childbirth complications, as well as mental health issues like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

According to UNICEF, millions of women globally have undergone female genital cutting, predominantly in Africa but also in parts of Asia and the Middle East. Despite over 80 countries having laws against the practice, it continues to persist due to entrenched cultural beliefs and inadequate enforcement of legislation.

Ultimately, the debate surrounding the proposed legislation underscores the ongoing struggle to combat harmful traditional practices and uphold the rights and dignity of women and girls worldwide.

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