Without a law, will the FGM ban in Gambia be upheld?

President Yayah Jammeh of the Gambia has banned the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). He outlawed the practice in the country on the 23rd of November 2015, declaring that the ban will be effective within the country immediately. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) defines Female genital mutilation (FGM) as a practice that involves altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons. The UNFPA also projects that if current the current trend where between 100 to 140 million women around the world have undergone FGM continues, an additional 15 million girls between ages 15 to 19 would be subjected to the gruesome act by the year 2030.

According to the World Health Organization, immediate harmful effects of FGM include hemorrhage, bacterial infections and open sores while the long-term consequences include infertility, childbirth complications and recurring bladder infections.

Jammeh’s ban on FGM is a good move for Gambian women, as they have suffered the harmful effects of genital mutilation for many years. Statistics from soschildrensvillages.org reveal that FGM is particularly rampant in a place called Foni Jarrol, one of the nine districts in Gambia’s western division, where 95 percent of the female residents have undergone cutting, compared with 76 percent nationally. Here, the processes of female genital mutilation has become a local law of sorts, making it a far more common practice than in other parts of the country. As a way of life and a rite of passage, FGM (locally referred to as Adaa Karango) is always carried out by the Ngamsimba (traditional circumcisers).

It is true that Jammeh has outlawed the horrific practice, but the question of if this action can really be banned still remains. There is no legislation to further protect female Gambians from being pressured into being cut by the Ngamsimba, so this may just be the beginning of Jammeh’s work in the fight against FGM. Orally declaring a ban is not the furthest a president can go in kicking against the act of genital mutilation and the Gambians need a definitive legal framework to prevent violence against women in this form.

Former president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan passed the Violence against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) bill into law, on May 5, 2015 just before the end of his tenure. The VAPP law prevents violence against vulnerable persons (women and girls), prohibits female circumcision or genital mutilation, forceful ejection from home and harmful widowhood practices. It also prohibits abandonment of spouse, children and other dependents without sustenance, battery and other harmful traditional practices.

Going forward, it is important that Jammeh understands his work is far from over. A law protecting women and girls in Gambia from FGM might be the next thing the president considers in making this bold move more concrete.

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