Gambian lawmakers to vote on repealing female genital mutilation ban

By Thomson Reuters Mar 18, 2024 | 6:54 AM

BANJUL (Reuters) – Gambian lawmakers were due on Monday to vote on a proposal to repeal a ban on female genital mutilation (FGM), which if approved would mark a rare setback for efforts to criminalise the practice.

In 2015, the small West African nation imposed steep fines and jail sentences for those who carry out FGM, which the World Health Organization says has no health benefits and can lead to excessive bleeding, shock, psychological problems and death.

Despite progress in enacting legal bans, the United Nations Children’s Fund found in a report released earlier this month that the number of women and girls who have undergone FGM worldwide increased from 200 million eight years ago to 230 million now. It is practised in 92 countries, 51 of which have laws banning it, according to Equality Now, an advocacy group.

Gambia’s ban, adopted under the autocratic former president Yahya Jammeh, has faced pushback in the overwhelmingly Muslim country, particularly since President Adama Barrow came to power in 2017.

Three women were fined last August for carrying out FGM on eight infant girls, becoming the first people convicted under the law.

The Gambia Supreme Islamic Council responded to the verdict by saying female circumcision was one of the virtues of Islam and calling on the government to reconsider the ban.

Lawmaker Almameh Gibba presented the repeal bill earlier this month, arguing that the law violates citizens’ rights to practice their culture and religion.

Members of parliament have come out both in favour of and against the bill, and it was not immediately clear which way the vote might go. Barrow has not spoken publicly on the issue.

Nearly 180 Gambian civil society organisations released an open letter last October calling on the government to preserve the law.

“Repealing the anti-FGM law would undo the considerable gains made in safeguarding the rights and well-being of women and girls,” they said.

(Reporting by Pap Saine; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)