Despite the official ban on the deeply-rooted FGM, the practice still exists in the country.
In most cases, parents who subject their children to this practice do it secretly without the notice of government officials for fear of being arrested.
In the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak, new restrictions were put in place, placing young girls at more risk of being cut.
Fallu Sowe, the coordinator of Network Against Gender-Based Violence (NGBV), said communities are not reporting cases of FGM recalling that three cases were reported to the network in 2020 but none of which was effectively investigated by the police.
“At the end, we had no case prosecuted,” he stated.
An young lady who spoke to The Standard on condition of anonymity reflected on her personal experiences:
“I was forcefully cut, in fact, I was taken all the way to Senegal. I was told that I was going on a vacation to visit my grandparents not knowing that I was going to be a victim of FGM. It really broke my heart because I can never forget the pain I went through.”
Speaking to reporters during the International Zero Day of FGM commemoration at the Jawara International Conference Centre, Dr Isatou Touray, the vice president of The Gambia, said ending FGM in The Gambia requires collective responsibilities.
She added that the government will join other organisations in the region to fight and end FGM in the country.
A Unicef Gambia data has shown that at least 200 million girls and women alive today living in 31 countries have undergone FGM, while the exact number of girls and women worldwide who have undergone FGM remain unknown.
According to the report, the impact of Covid-19 on FGM, built from surveys with grassroots activists, Covid-19 lockdowns present opportunities to carry out FGM “undetected”, and the lack of integration of services within the Covid-19 response is leaving girls at risk with no recourse to essential.
The global goals under Sustainable Development Goal 5 for gender equality, Target 5.3 calls for the elimination of all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.
Fatou Kinteh, Minister of Women, Children and Social Welfare, said Gambian women have come a long way from 36 years ago when FGM was a taboo subject to be discussed.
Mr Jonathan Lewis, Unicef country representative, in an interview with The Standard, said that their collective hope lies in the criminalisation.
He highlighted that since they joined the programme on eliminating FGM in 2018, UNFPA, as lead agency, and Unicef have been working closely with the Government of The Gambia and a wide array of partners to support national efforts to eliminate FGM.
He added that as advocates for the rights of girls and women, they play a strategic role in sensitising and engaging communities and young people, raising awareness on FGM, and initiating behavioural change programmes in communities.
Kunle Adeniyi, UNFPA country representative, also told The Standard, that FGM is not only a hindrance to the empowerment of girls and women, but causes serious long-term psychological and health complications.
“Some of the effects of FGM as we know include increase rise of HIV, sexual and reproductive health problems and may lead to later complications in pregnancy and childbirth as well as psychological impacts. This harm is often irreversible,” he explained.
Mr Adeniyi also said in The Gambia, the prevalence of FGM in women aged 15-49 is 74.9 percent.
Fatimah Jarju, from Think Young Women, an organisation that fights for rights of young girls, said FGM was being practiced in The Gambia discreetly.
Another woman, who also spoke to this reporter on condition of anonymity, said even though there is a ban on FGM in The Gambia people still do it and some would rather go to jail than abandon it.
She said some parents go to Senegal or hire a circumciser to cut their children secretly at home.
Dr Babanding Daffeh, a health expert working at the Kanifing General Hospital, explained that FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways.
“The practice involves removing and injuring healthy and normal female genital tissue, interfering with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies. It can lead to immediate health risks and a variety of long-term complications affecting women’s physical, mental and sexual health and well-being throughout the life-course.”
He stated that all forms of FGM are associated with increased health risks in the short and long term. “FGM is a harmful practice and an unacceptable from of human rights violation as well as a public health perspective, regardless of who performs it. Some health care providers perform FGM (medicalisation), but WHO is opposed to all forms of FGM and strongly urges health care providers to not carry out FGM even when their patients or their patients’ families request it,” he said.
According to the 2019-2020 Demographic and Health Survey, recently published by the Gambia Bureau of Statistics, 73 percent of Gambian women aged 15-49 have been circumcised.
Covid-19 status report
The Gambia has currently recorded over 5,978 Covid-19 cases while recovered cases are 5,754 and 178 deaths.
The first case of Covid-19 was reported on December 31 and the source of the outbreak has been linked to a wet market in Wuhan, Hubei province, China.
Human-to-human and patient-to-medical staff transmission of the virus have been confirmed. Many of the associated fatalities have been due to pneumonia caused by the virus.