Bill to Decriminalise Female Genital Mutilation in Gambia to be Discussed by Parliament

What You Need to Know:

A Bill presented by Hon. Almahmeh Gibba to decriminalise Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Gambia was presented to the country’s parliament yesterday and shall be discussed by lawmakers at the end of the month. 

Hon. Almameh Gibba, pictured above, presented the Bill to Parliament

FGM, defined by UNICEF as “the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons” has been illegal in Gambia since 2015, and is punishable by up to three years in prison. However, with Gambia being a country in which almost 95% of the population is muslim, it is seen as ‘female circumcision’ and viewed as an important religious and cultural practice. 

The Details:

According to the US Department of State, “it is generally the older women and excisors who are the major force behind maintaining the practice. The enticement of a big party, festive cooking and new clothes are commonly used as incentives for a girl to undergo the procedure.

In some cases, older women have been known to pursue a reluctant young woman and force her to undergo the procedure. It is difficult for a young woman to resist in the face of powerful extended family members should she decide not to. Occasionally the procedure is performed without the parents’ consent. Rural women in groups that practice any form of FGM/FGC, strongly support the practice.”

State Department numbers estimate the percentage of women in Gambia that have undergone at least one form of FGM ranges between 60-90 percent. 

In 2023 the Supreme Islamic Council of Gambia issued a fatwa (islamic legal ruling) on the status of FGM in the country, labeling it legal and calling it ‘a virtue of Islam.’ 

The fatwa came after three women charged with practicing FGM had their fines paid by an Islamic cleric. 

So, What Now?:

Gambia is a signatory to the African Union’s Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Women, which specifically states in subsection B of Article 5, ‘The Elimination of Harmful Practice’ that:

“States Parties shall prohibit and condemn all forms of harmful practices which negatively affect the human rights of women and which are contrary to recognised international standards. States Parties shall take all necessary legislative and other measures to eliminate such practices, including: 

b) Prohibition, through legislative measures backed by sanctions, of all forms of female genital mutilation, scarification, medicalisation and para-medicalisation of female genital mutilation and all other practices in order to eradicate them.”

Thus, unless Gambia withdraws from the protocol it is unlikely that the Bill to decriminalize the practice shall pass, unless the country is willing to forego its international obligations.

Bianca Bridger
Bianca Bridger
Bianca Bridger is a Political Science Graduate from the University of Otago, New Zealand. Currently working as an Editor for The ModernInsurgent and writing for Atlas News, her interests include conflict politics, history, yoga and meditation.

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