The decision taken by President Jammeh to ban female genital mutilation in the country has won support from his fiercest political opponent.
Lawyer Ousainou Darboe, the leader of the biggest opposition party in the country, described Jammeh’s policy pronouncement against FGM as a “welcoming development”.
“I think the policy pronouncement made by the President banning Female Genital Mutilation is a welcoming development,” Darboe observed, in an interview at his Kotu residence over the weekend.
“This has been an issue for the past decades. The reasons President Jammeh gave, primary the health of women, are true.”
Last week President Jammeh has surprised his audience at a meeting in Kanilai after he announced he has banned FGM in the country.
Being the leader of the political party with the second biggest following, Darboe said he does not even mind joining the activist in their sensitization against FGM.
“I am prepared to join their campaign in sensitizing people against FGM. I have always condemned doing FGM to a girl child. If someone who is 21 feels that she wants to go through it that must be based on consent, I can’t do anything about that. But as far as babies are concern they do not know anything about FGM. If they have a choice they could have rejected it,” Darboe argued.
“The constitution talks of preserving our cultural rights but the cultural values that tend to debase your humanity should not be encouraged. I consider FGM as… violence against women.”
However, the UDP leader enjoined the President to promptly enact a legislation to formerly outlaw the practice.
Himself a seasoned lawyer in the country, Darboe said Government must incorporate into the Children’s Act legislation with appropriate sanction against FGM.
“I think it should not just stop at a policy pronouncement. The Government should go ahead and criminalise it. There are laws in the Children’s Act that outlaw violence against women and there should be law in the Act that criminalises female circumcision and put in appropriate sanction for those who violate the law,” he said.
“If it were me at the time of making the policy pronouncement I would tell the people that a bill will be presented before the National Assembly in their next sitting criminalizing FGM.”
Activists have long called for a law that will outlaw FGM in the country and one organization that is at the forefront of such crusade is Gamcotrap.
The UDP leader said he is personally “inspired” by the determination of Dr Isatou Touray, the executive director of Gamcotrap, who has been fighting against FGM in The Gambia for over three decades.
FGM is a deep-rooted traditional practice in the country that is often associated with Islam but Darboe argued that though the practice has always been justified on religious grounds, the “non performance of it affects no one’s status as a Muslim”.
“FGM has been our tradition for a long time but must we continue with it into this 21st century,” he questioned.
He further enjoined the activists to continue their public awareness campaign to make the people aware of the health risks associated with FGM, emphasizing “more sensitization is required”.
The Gambia has laws on violence against women but in the most recent concluding observation of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on The Gambia published in July 24, the UN body said “it is concerned that violence against women remains widespread”.
The UDP leader urged stricter enforcement and sensitization on the laws that protect the rights of women in the country.
“The enforcement of the law should also involve sensitization,” he said.
“Because domestic violence still happens still happens in the country despite laws against it. And often the bartered wives do not come out to openly speak about violence against them.”
The UDP leader who argued that “Gambian women are being used by politicians as king makers”, recommended that the sustainable way of combating all forms of violence against women is to “have them in key positions where decisions that affect their lives are made”.
The political scene of The Gambia has ever been controlled by men though the women folks, many observers believe, are increasingly being assertive of their rights.
However, the UDP leader said he would not hesitate advocating for a Gambia that has both a woman president and vice president.
“I have always advocated that Gambian women should be in key decision making positions. I know that biologically, women and men are different but other than that, we are the same in terms of intellect,” he contended.
“I would love to live in a Gambia where both the President and the vice President are female.”
There are six active political parties in the country but none of them have ever nominated a woman as their presidential candidate.
The UDP leader attributed this to women’s unwillingness to join the opposition in the country.
“Most educated Gambian women do not want to join the opposition,” he argued.
“We would not mind nominating a woman for presidency who we believe is a good presidential material.”