7th September 2023 – As a coalition of Civil Society and Non-Governmental Organisations dedicated to the health, welfare and human rights of women and girls in The Gambia, we come together to address the pressing social and legal concern relating to the practice of female circumcision, also known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) which is a longstanding harmful cultural practice affecting the health of women and girls.
In 2015, The Gambia took a significant stride by amending the Women’s Act 2010, to explicitly criminalise FGM under sections 32A and 32B of the amended Act. However, despite these legislative measures, enforcement of the law has proven to be challenging, allowing FGM and its numerous consequences to persist, either blatantly committed or sometimes concealed from public view.
In August 2023, The Gambia secured the landmark prosecution and conviction of three women from the Central River Region, for being accomplices to the crime of FGM. This marked the first of such prosecution, eight years after the criminalisation of the practice. This milestone is a reminder of the need for sustained efforts to accelerate the eradication of FGM, to ensure the health, welfare and fundamental human rights of women and girls.
While we hail the significance of this prosecution, we express serious concern over the leniency of the Fine of fifteen thousand Dalasis (D15,000) handed to the offenders. The law (both sections 32A and 32B of the Women’s Act) prescribes a punishment of three (3) years imprisonment or a fine of fifty thousand Dalasis (D50,000) or both, for engaging in the practice of FGM or being an accomplice of it, respectively. Therefore, the D15,000 Fine by the court raises critical concerns about the adequacy of the response to the seriousness of the Crime. While the Law grants the Courts the discretion to apply reduced sentences and fines, we strongly urge the Government of The Gambia to consider an exception for offences which leave victims with enduring physical and emotional trauma, as well as the irreparable harm that victims of these crimes will carry with them throughout their lives.
Furthermore, some public figures have openly supported the convicted individuals and continue to publicly advocate for the continuation of the practice of FGM, despite section 32B of the amended Women’s Act 2015, criminalising the incitement or promotion of FGM. Such behaviour not only inflicts harm but also runs contrary to the principles of justice and the protection of women and girls.
While we condemn in the strongest terms, the action of detractors who leverage social and religious devotion to promote their personal agendas at the detriment of women’s welfare and rights, our commitment remains centred on the experiences and realities of women and girls who endure the trauma of this harmful practice; their lives bearing indelible scars while their bodies are reduced to political tools. Regrettably, thousands more in The Gambia are still vulnerable to falling victim to this ordeal. It is these women whose voices matter.
Today, as we have been doing for the past decades, we re-echo our call to the Government of The Gambia to fulfil its obligation to protect the rights and welfare of women and girls. As such:
1. We demand that the government and the Ministry of Justice, to impartially uphold the law and ensure that those who partake in, support, or advocate for FGM face appropriate consequences.
2. We demand for the protection of the rights and well-being of FGM victims. They merit our unwavering support, empathy, and access to requisite services.
3. We pledge to tirelessly raise awareness about the detrimental effects of FGM and replace this practice with culturally enriching alternatives that respect the dignity and well-being of our women and girls.
4. We invite all Gambians to stand with us in this endeavour for a Gambia where the rights and dignity of every woman and girl are upheld and defended.
We will not relent in our efforts to ensure that every girl and every woman in The Gambia, enjoys her fundamental human rights and has her dignity respected and protected.