Zero Tolerance of FGM/C 2010
The Gambia, 16 February 2010 – Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGMC) is recognized by human rights advocates worldwide as a serious violation of the rights of women and girls. A cautious estimate indicates that about 2 million women and girls are at risk of FGMC worldwide every year. In The Gambia the national prevalence of FGMC has been estimated at 78%, which UNICEF and other developmental and human rights organizations consider significantly high. Data from UNICEF’s latest Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2005/2006 indicate that infant mortality in The Gambia is estimated at 131 per 1000 live births, maternal deaths stand at 730 deaths per 100,000 live births, and HIV/AIDS prevalence rate is at 1.8% (national sentinel 2007). Studies have shown that these problems are impacted on, in various degrees, by FGMC particularly in African countries where the practice is widespread.
Since 2007, UNICEF has been working closely with Tostan and the government of The Gambia to accelerate the abandonment of FGMC in the Upper River Region, one of the most deprived regions in the country, which registered an FGMC prevalence of 99% at the time. Alongside interventions at community and policy levels, continual awareness creation on the issue is conducted to decelerate and ultimately halt the practice of FGMC in The Gambia. UNICEF is convinced that targeting and empowering children and adolescents with knowledge and information is a significant step towards achieving this.
It is in view of this that UNICEF, on Saturday 6th, conducted a Sensitization and Film- Viewing activity at Nusrat Senior Secondary School as part of its activities to mark this year’s International Zero Tolerance of FGM Day. The objectives of the activity, which attracted over 200 boys and girls from grades 10 to 12, were to create awareness and strengthen the students’ existing knowledge on FGMC; and expose them to a documentary on FGMC abandonment in Senegal developed by Tostan and Respect, a Belgian NGO, to encourage behavioral change.
In his welcoming remarks, Mr. Saa Lawrence Karmintey, the school focal point for inter-relations, thanked UNICEF for taking the time to enlighten the students on such an important issue. He further urged the students to seize this opportunity to broaden their knowledge of FGMC by learning from the documentary and seeking clarifications from the experts.
UNICEF Communication Specialist, Sally Sadie Singhateh, enlightened the students on the situation of FGMC in The Gambia, and gave a brief overview of what International Zero Tolerance of FGM Day entails. Ms. Singhateh explained that it was a day adopted at the Addis Ababa International Conference on Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in 2003, organized by the Inter-African Committee (IAC) and attended by 49 nations including 4 African First Ladies; members of governments; community, religious and youth leaders, and UN Agencies. “There are several reasons for identifying this very important day,” Ms. Singhateh stated. “However, the principal reason for commemorating February 6, annually, is to call attention, at national and international levels, to the persistence of FGMC, and to the effort required by governments and the people to ensure an effective acceleration of FGMC abandonment.” Ms. Singhateh notified them that the theme for this year, “The Role of Men and Boys in the Eradication of FGM”, is very important because for many years, men as target groups were left out of the campaign for FGMC eradication. “It is only through the collective effort of a nation including men, women, young people, community leaders, religious leaders, and policy makers that FGMC can be successfully eradicated,” she noted.
She further explained that the documentary they were about to watch is inspiring as it tracks key people in the village of Diegoune, in the Cassamance Region of Senegal, capturing their respective and communal commitment and progress towards FGMC abandonment in their community. It tells the story of a mother who lost her daughter from the cutting, an Imam who teaches that the practice is not a religious obligation, a doctor who treats women who have been cut, a husband whose wife was cut and the problems they face, and many more.
Following the documentary, an interactive and stimulating discussion session was initiated by Ms. Singhateh and Mr. Salifu Jarsey, UNICEF Child Protection Specialist, during which students posed questions and sought clarifications ranging from the differences between a cut and an uncut woman, and Islam’s stance on the issue.
In her closing remarks, Ms. Singhateh placed emphasis on the need for change. She made reference to key issues portrayed in the documentary, and reiterated some of the health complications and human rights violations associated with the cutting. She directed the students to take up the initiative to discover more about FGMC and the problems associated with it by visiting organizations working on the issues, including UNICEF, for further information, or by browsing the internet. The UNICEF Communication Specialist encouraged the Nusrat students, as the leaders of tomorrow, to learn from the examples of the people of Diegoune so that their brave example and that of other communities that have abandoned the practice in Senegal as well as in URR in The Gambia, would be replicated in other parts of our nation. Moreover, Ms. Singhateh urged the students to pass on the messages they had learnt from the activity to their friends, their brothers and sisters, and even their parents to ensure a healthier and more secured future for women and girls in The Gambia.