A joint statement by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) expresses their “deep concern on the current regressive Parliamentary debate” advocating for the repeal of the Gambia’s laws prohibiting FGM.
The UN in The Gambia has also released a statement reaffirming its commitment to supporting the fight to end FGM in The Gambia, highlighting that the prohibition of FGM under the law is in line with The Gambia’s international and regional human rights commitments.
FGM has no health benefits and harms girls and women in many ways. It involves the removal and damage of healthy and normal female genital tissue and disrupts the natural functions of the body. Immediate complications can include severe pain, shock, hemorrhage (bleeding), tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urinary retention, open sores and swelling in the genital area, and damage to nearby genital tissue. FGM can result in death.
Long-term effects can include recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections, cysts, painful scar tissue, theneed for subsequent surgery, sexual health problems, and mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. FGM can also cause infertility and an increased risk of complications during childbirth, such as excessive bleeding and obstetric tearing, which can lead to maternal and infant death.
The Gambia has one of the highest FGM prevalence rates in West Africa, and the Foundation for Research on Women’s Health, Productivity and the Environment (BAFROW) reports that seven of the country’s nine ethnic groups practice FGM.
The Gambia’s Government must safeguard women and girls from FGM
“We, the undersigned, will not relent in our efforts to ensure every girl and woman enjoys her fundamental human rights and has her dignity respected and defended,” the organizations said. “As such, we stand in solidarity with the survivors, organizations, and activists in The Gambia who have tirelessly advocated for the rights of women and girls, and our commitment remains focused on the experiences and realities of those who endure the trauma of this harmful practice.”“We condemn in the strongest terms the actions of people who misdirect social and religious adherence to promote FGM to the detriment of the welfare and rights of women and girls, who bear indelible scars. At the same time, their bodies are reduced to political tools. Regrettably, thousands more in The Gambia remain at risk,” the statement read.
The organizations said The Gambia has demonstrated admirable leadership in taking legislative action against FGM, and the positive ripple effects extend far beyond its borders, influencing other West African nations in their endeavours to combat this entrenched form of gender-based violence. “Neighbours have looked to The Gambia as a source of inspiration, drawing valuable lessons and momentum from its progress.
“Repealing the anti-FGM law would undo the considerable gains made in safeguarding the rights and well-being of women and girls. Furthermore, reversal would potentially weaken the resolve of other nations, undermining the continent’s collective struggle to eradicate FGM and overshadowing many lives throughout West Africa and beyond. ”The statement concluded: “As Africa celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Maputo Protocol which under its Article 5 on Ending Harmful Practices, obligates the 44 state parties including The Gambia to end female genital mutilation; we urge the government of The Gambia to stay firm and committed to upholding its obligations under this treaty. We look to The Gambia to continue demonstrating its leadership in the criminalization of FGM and for the Government to fulfill its obligations to protect the rights and welfare of women and girls, which entails upholding its commitments under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol).”