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Gambian Parliament wants to overturn FGM ban

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Around 70% of women aged 15 to 49 in the country underwent FGM before it was banned in 2015.
gambian parliament fgm ban

Gambian Parliament has passed a bill to overturn its ban on female genital mutilation (FGM), also called ‘female genital cutting’ or ‘FGC’.

Around 70% of women aged 15 to 49 in the country underwent FGM before it was banned in 2015.

MPs in the small West African country have voted to overturn that ban. A parliamentary committee will now consider the bill to resume FGM, before a final vote later this year.

According to UNICEF research published this month, over 230 million women and girls alive today have been subjected to FGM.

FGM

FGM is known to cause health issues like infections, blood loss, problems urinating, and complications in childbirth. It has no health benefits.

The UN has identified FGM in 92 countries. It’s sometimes described as a religious practice, but it is not recommended in any major religious text.

The World Health Organisation describes FGM as “an extreme form of discrimination against girls and women.”

The Gambia

The Gambia is a small country in West Africa with a population of around 2.5 million people, 96% of whom are Muslim.

It was a British colony from the 17th century until the 1960s, and was heavily impacted by the slave trade. Experts say the country has been called ‘The Gambia’ since it became independent from the British Empire as a way to distinguish itself from another newly independent nation, Zambia.

Alongside regular courts, The Gambia has a court system specifically for Islamic legal disputes where all parties involved are Muslim.

Gambian Parliament’s FGM ban

In 2015, The Gambia passed a law to ban FGM, which includes a penalty of up to three years imprisonment for anyone who performs it, and life imprisonment if the procedure causes death.

Human rights advocates welcomed the ban. It was considered a landmark decision and led to the conviction of three women last year.

Despite the ban, UN data from 2021 estimated three in four girls in The Gambia are still subjected to FGM before the age of six.

Last year, three women in The Gambia were found guilty of performing mutilations on several children. Following their conviction, The Gambia’s leading Islamic advisory body issued a fatwa — a non-binding ruling on Islamic law.

The fatwa argued that FGM is “not just a merely inherited custom” but “one of the virtues of Islam”.

However, global charity Islamic Relief Worldwide argues that FGM is a harmful practice that is never mentioned in the Quran, Islam’s holy text.

The fatwa prompted The Gambian Parliament to consider revoking the ban on FGM.

Parliament debate

This week, 4 MPs voted against, and 42 MPs voted in favour of a bill to revoke the ban on FGM.

MP Lamin Ceesay argued in favour of the bill, and said the ban breached the Constitution because it prevents a person’s “right to practice religion”.

However, another MP, Gibbi Mballow, said he would not support the bill because “the religion says we should not harm women… Let’s not forget women’s lives matter.”

The bill has been referred to a parliamentary committee for review before it’s debated again later in the year.

A final vote will then determine if FGM will no longer be banned in The Gambia.

Amnesty International urged The Gambia’s Parliament to not revoke the ban on FGM. It warned it would “set a dangerous precedent for women’s rights.”

If The Gambia does lift the ban, it will become the world’s first country to revoke a ban on FGM.

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