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Gambia upholds FGM ban following intense debate

IN a significant move on Monday, Gambian lawmakers adopted recommendations to uphold the country’s ban on female genital mutilation (FGM). This decision comes ahead of a pivotal vote later this month that will determine whether to decriminalise the practice.

FGM has been illegal in Gambia since 2015. Despite the ban, the practice remains prevalent in the West African nation, deeply embedded in its cultural traditions. The first convictions under the law last year ignited a backlash, intensifying the ongoing debate.

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Following a heated session, the joint health and gender committee’s report was approved by the full house sitting, with 35 lawmakers voting in favour, 17 against, and two abstaining. The final vote on the bill to potentially decriminalise FGM is scheduled for July 24.

Should the parliament approve the bill, Gambia would be the first country to reverse its ban on FGM. The bill passed its second reading in March with a strong majority—only five out of 53 lawmakers opposed it, and one abstained.

In response to the second reading, the joint committee conducted a national public consultation involving religious and traditional leaders, medical professionals, FGM survivors, civil society groups, and practitioners. The committee’s findings, presented on Monday, condemned all forms of FGM as a ‘traumatic form of torture’ and a severe form of ‘discrimination against women.’

‘Repealing the law would be a significant setback for Gambia,’ stated Amadou Camara, the lawmaker who read the committee’s report.

The controversy intensified after the first FGM conviction last August, where three women were found guilty of cutting eight infant girls. This event sparked outrage and led independent lawmaker Almaneh Gibba to propose the repeal bill in March.

Gibba and his supporters, which include influential religious leaders, argue that the ban infringes on citizens’ rights to practice their culture and religion in the predominantly Muslim country. However, many Islamic scholars challenge this perspective.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) maintains that FGM has no health benefits and can result in severe complications, including excessive bleeding, shock, psychological trauma, and even death.

As the July 24 vote approaches, the nation remains divided. The outcome will not only impact Gambia’s legal stance on FGM but also its broader commitment to human rights and women’s health. The intense debates and national consultations highlight the complexities surrounding the practice, emphasizing the need for continued dialogue and education to protect the rights and health of all Gambians.

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