Our body, our decision: Jaha, partners prepare young people to fight FGM

From left to right: Dr Touray and Jaha Dukureh

From left to right: Dr Touray and Jaha Dukureh

Two months before his demise, a liberal Gambian commentator, Dr Boro Susso, told The Standard newspaper that “time has come for the Gambian women to not beg but seize their rights”.

Apparently, Jaha and other young yet outspoken women activists who Dr Isatou Touray, the oldest face of anti-FGM activism in The Gambia, described as “the new generation of actors”, have begun doing just that.

“I believe, as young people, there is more that we can do and it is our moral obligation to end FGM in our generation,” Jaha said as she addressed young activists at the opening of a one-day workshop at the Paradise Suite hotel.

Jaha has flown from United States to The Gambia to join tens of youths at a one-day workshop her Organisation, Safe Hands for Girls, organized in partnership with The Girl Generation at the Paradise Suite Hotel on Friday, November 6.

The Girl Generation is an international institution that also fights against FGM and has been advocating for an inclusion into the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal FGM as a global indicator.

Represented at Paradise Suite by Hamimu Masudi, regional advocacy and communications coordinator, The Girl Generation argues that the provision of the global indicator creates an opportunity and tool for governments, international agencies, global actors, and regional and national stakeholders to accelerate efforts to end all forms of harmful practices against women.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Binta Jallow Sidibeh, the executive director of the Women’s Bureau, has urged the workshop participants to wield courage in the sensitization campaign against FGM.

Sidibeh whose statement was presented on her behalf by Siaka Marong, assistant director, projects and programmes at Women’s Bureau, said “awareness needs to be created on the health, psychological, physical and social effects of FGM on women and girls”.

If we act with courage, conviction and commitment, we can change violence against women from being the most pervasive violation of human rights to being a rare occurrence that is considered unacceptable and no longer tolerated,” she said.

She also praised the joint civil society-government efforts aim at ending FGM in the country, adding that the partnership for the implementation of the National Action Plan with civil society, religious leaders, and community leaders is essential in enhancing local level commitment to the abandonment of the practice.

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The executive director of the United Nations Fund and Population Affairs, Dr Babatunde Osotimehin, said Female Genital Mutilation is a violation of the fundamental rights of women while urging activists not to relent in their fight against the practice.

In a statement delivered on her behalf by Fatou Kinteh, Dr Osotimehin said “FGM leads to devastating health and psychological effects” that hunts some of its victims “throughout their lives”.

“FGM/C is a violation of the human rights of girls and women. An equitable society cannot be attained if fundamental human rights of half of human society (women and girls) continue to be denied and violated,” he said.

“We have come a long way in the campaign and we must not relent; our joint efforts are required to further protect women and girls.”

Dr Osotimehin said violence against women are “consequences of the value placed on women and girls by society”, arguing that “harmful traditional persist in an environment where women and girls have unequal access to education, wealth, health, and employment”.

Dr Osotimehin blamed the “inferiority” of women folks on what he described as the “social control by men” and the “economic and political subordination of women” that, he added, “inhibit” the structural and attitudinal changes necessary to eliminate gender inequity.

However, he said the UNFPA and UNICEF have jointly implemented the UN’s largest programme to accelerate the abandonment of FGM which, he revealed, is being “implemented in 17 countries in Africa, including The Gambia”.

“… FGM/C has now become a household word which is discussed openly in many communities…Since 2009 over 40, 000 individuals have been directly reached and more 300, 000 people have been reached through newspaper publications, radio and the traditional media,” he said.

“Over 500 communities and 50 circumcisers in Upper River Region and the North Bank of the Central Region have made a public declaration to abandon FGM. FGM is integrated into the circular of the health professional scores and about 300 health professionals have been trained on the management of the FGM complications. The trained health workers include FGM in their health education programmes in the clinics and during outreach.”

Dr Isatou Touray has been fighting against FGM in The Gambia for over three decades with some much “set-backs” and “successes” and yet she thinks her three-decade battle, with the courage that Jaha and compatriots have shown, nears the end.

“I want to put it to you that you are all change agents who can and who should be able to change your circumstances at any given time,” she said.

The hurdles” in the fight against FGM in The Gambia, Dr Touray further assured Jaha and her colleagues, “have been greatly minimized”, adding that they “can do it”.

Dr Touray praised Jaha and her organization for “the bold step” they took in the fight against FGM and child marriage of which she “is a victim”.

“We are proud as a pioneering organization to address a young generation of Gambians whose concerns we have been raising. This convening of the young people is the legacy I want to see…,” she said.

Dr Touray further pledged that she will continue to “support the young generation of leaders who are emerging in a context that requires self-determination” while likening the passion that Jaha has to that of hers when she “decided that fight against FGM must no longer be an underground campaign” three decades ago.

“The campaign against FGM and the protection of women and girls against any harmful practices is the responsibility of all and sundry,” she said.

You the youths are very critical.”

With more intensity in the rural areas, FGM is still widespread in The Gambia with an overall prevalence level, between women age 15-49, of 75%, according to the country’s Demographic Health Survey published barely two months ago.

However, despite this level of prevalence in the country, activists in the country would often argue, politicians keep avoiding a discussion on banning the practice as was done in the neighboring Senegal.

However, Yankuba Colley, the ruling APRC party’s national mobiliser who has joined the participants at the Paradise Suite hotel, did say he is a “big fan” of Jaha’s anti-FGM crusade.

While that might be seen as victory over one in authority, minority leader of the National Assembly did told The Standard newspaper, three months ago, that they (politicians) are afraid of talking about banning FGM because of its popularity amongst the electorates.

Though the minority leader was criticized heavily by activists of what they described as “selfishness”, but he remained adamant that he had spoken a common language in the country’s law-making body.

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