FGM ban begins a pivotal era for women and girls in The Gambia

Commemorations for the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting are especially significant for The Gambia this year, following the banning and criminalization of FGM/C. UNICEF photo

by Ade Mamonyane Lekoetje, UNDP Resident Representative and UN Resident Coordinator in The Gambia

In November 2015, the practice of female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C) was banned and subsequently criminalized in The Gambia. This marks an important milestone in the country’s journey to end FGM/C and ensure that the fundamental human rights of girls and women are protected and fulfilled.

The achievement places The Gambia proudly among 26 other African countries that have banned FGM/C through legislation. And it comes after years of work to raise awareness among individuals and communities, reinforced by intense advocacy with decision and policy makers. As a result, where FGM/C used to be a taboo, the subject is now openly discussed in Gambian homes and communities.

The Joint UNFPA/UNICEF programme for the abandonment of FGM/C played a pivotal role in this critical transition for the women and girls of The Gambia. Support from the joint programme allowed for the sensitization and training of traditional and religious leaders, men, women, children, policy makers, law enforcement agents and circumcisers on the health and human rights effects of FGM/C. Once convinced, Islamic religious leaders and scholars became powerful advocates against FGM/C with influence at both the policy and community levels.

FGM/C has been successfully integrated into the health professional school curricula, and about 1,000 healthcare personnel have so far been trained. Their knowledge about the issue is systematically shared through health education sessions during antenatal services and outreach activities.

The involvement of youth in the advocacy has been key in ensuring that future generations of girls and women remain uncut and protected from harm. Their use of social media platforms to communicate with fellow young people has amplified key messages on FGM/C and widened the reach. 

The formal and informal media also have served as invaluable complementary tools in publicizing issues around FGM/C to target groups as well as to the masses. Regular panel discussions on community radio as well as the dissemination of key messages across the country by trained traditional communicators using songs and drama at different fora, including weddings and naming ceremonies, have also been effective.

The different interventions conducted at the local level have prompted enough communities to reach a consensus and make public declarations to abandon FGM/C. Since 2009, a total of 1,015 communities have publicly declared their rejection of FGM/C; and 158 circumcisers have abandoned the practice, contributing to the reduction of the national FGM/C prevalence from 92.2% to 75%.

The UN takes very seriously its mandate to protect the rights of women and girls. Following the presidential pronouncement banning the practice, UNDP, OHCHR, UNFPA and UNICEF supported the development of an Anti-FGM/C Bill that was used in the 2015 Women’s Act Amendment criminalizing FGM/C.

UNDP and other UN agencies will continue to support social mobilization efforts to end FGM/C in The Gambia and elsewhere. In cultures where FGM/C is part of a rite of passage into adulthood, we promote initiation without cutting. As such, positive aspects of the culture will be retained while harmful elements are left behind.

These efforts, involving all actors including the Government and civil society, will create a lasting impact in the lives of girls and women in The Gambia. With increased awareness on its harmful effects, individuals and communities are working to ensure that the next generation of girls and women no longer have to bear the consequences of FGM/C.

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