Gambia MPs back report upholding genital mutilation banMon, 08 Jul 2024 18:06:04 GMT

Gambian lawmakers on Monday approved a committee report supporting a 2015 ban on female genital mutilation (FGM), as a bill seeking to overturn the law heads for a final vote this month.The Women’s (Amendment) Bill 2024 has been making its way through parliament since March, deeply dividing public opinion in the Muslim-majority West African country.Rights groups and the United Nations have urged MPs to reject a repeal of the ban, saying it threatens years of progress and would see The Gambia become the first country to overturn an FGM ban.In March, lawmakers voted overwhelmingly in favour of advancing the bill for review by a parliamentary committee before a final vote on July 24.The joint committee on health and gender returned its conclusions Monday, saying the 2015 ban should be maintained “to prohibit female circumcision in all forms, whether genital mutilation or cutting, in The Gambia”.”Repealing the ban on FGM/C (female genital mutilation/cutting) would expose women and girls to severe health risks and violate their right to physical and mental well-being,” the report said.FGM involves the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs, and can lead to serious health problems including infections, bleeding, infertility and complications in childbirth.The committee said it had consulted Islamic scholars who confirmed the practice was not a requirement of Islam, an argument commonly used by FGM advocates. “Female genital mutilation is not Islamic but a custom/traditional belief,” the report said.The Gambia is among the 10 countries with the highest rates of FGM, with 73 percent of women and girls aged 15 to 49 having undergone the procedure, according to 2024 figures from UNICEF. – ‘Cannot hide behind Islam’ -After a heated debate which at times descended into shouting and table banging, 35 MPs voted to approve the report, while 17 voted against and two abstained.”You cannot hide behind Islam,” MP Gibbi Mballow said, adding that “the women of this country deserve better”.”The Gambia is a sovereign country that is multi-religious and multicultural,” argued another MP, Abdou Sowe. “It has been taken too far by us Muslims trying to… put this thing under the umbrella of Islam.”But lawmaker Lamin Ceesay accused the committee of neglecting to provide sufficient information in the report.”What scientific evidence are you talking about?” he said, adding that “We are committed to defending our religion, and our culture.”The text, introduced by MP Almameh Gibba, says that “female circumcision” is a deep-rooted cultural and religious practice, and that the ban infringes the right to practice traditions in the majority Muslim nation.In June, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Gambian President Adama Barrow to discuss what he called “our shared commitment to democratic principles and protecting human rights, including the rights of women and girls,” a State Department statement said.A UN report from March said that over 230 million girls and women worldwide are survivors of FGM.