By Sarata Jabbi
FGM is a procedure that involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or inflicting other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons, and it is recognised as a violation of human rights of women and girls. According to research, FGM is practised in 29 countries, including The Gambia, where 76% of females are subjected to it, and more than 130 million women worldwide are subjected to the procedure in Africa and the Middle East. In 2015 the former president of the Gambia, Yahya Jammeh announced a ban on FGM, after passing a bill that imposes three years of imprisonment and a fine of $1,300 on anyone found guilty of practising it.
In a recent interview with Mediamatic, one of the news outlets in the Gambia, published by What’s On Gambia on Facebook, the former Imam of Gambia’s state house, Abdoulie Fatty, claimed that FGM is a religious obligation and anyone that campaign against it is against the Islamic religion and shall not have a “good future”. This statement was seen as a very harsh and unpleasant by many, particularly some Gambian feminists both in the Gambia and in the Diaspora. Below are reactions of the feminists.
Imam Fatty is a living horrifying example of a patriarchal gate keeper. The world has come together and agreed that FGM is a gross human rights violation. The world has agreed that this a grave violence against women. An unimaginable number of girls have died during FGM. Intelligent Islamic leaders have signed Fatwas against FGM. The government of the Gambia has banned FGM, yet this Imam comes out publically inciting violence against 51% of the Gambian population (women and girls). We can no longer tolerate this from any member of society. We need to gather a petition against Imam Fatty and get the female lawyers association to file a case on our behalf in the courts against this man.
I was tremendously shocked and disappointed to hear that a religious leader with such influence in the community to publicly make a backwards think comment. Which will no doubt encourage those who have continued to cause harm to young girls despite what the law says. Further, those who have stopped practicing FGM will surely start doing it again. FGM is not a religious practice, it’s merely a cultural practice with no benefits. In the cultures that practise FGM, most women have minimal rights and are often viewed as the property of their families and then later their husbands. The act of circumcision, as a violent assault carried out without informed consent, is a way to entrench this power imbalance. It is linked to girls dropping out of school early, child marriage and child pregnancy. All of these have a huge impact on a girl’s life opportunities. Female circumcision is a violation of the rights of girls and women. The UN General Assembly has adopted a resolution banning it because the practice is harmful and a serious threat to women. Because it is often carried out without consent, and forcibly against a girl’s will, it also contravenes treaties such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Therefore, FGM must not be practiced anymore as it is to be expected, female circumcision gives rise to often severe psychological trauma. Many women who have been subjected to it suffer from post-traumatic stress, anxiety disorders and depression.
In 2015, the Gambia joined other countries around the world to criminalise the practice of FGM. Anyone found guilty of advocating for or practicing the act must face the law. Imam Fatty has just done that and he is no exception, he must face the law. We the Gambian women are sick and tired of being told what is right or wrong, or how we should look/behave as women. We are equal and want to be seen as such. We will no longer sit and watch the patriarchal society make decisions for us. There is no doubt that FGM is a harmful cultural practice with no health benefit to girls and women. Hence, we will fight anyone who has an agenda to promote it in order to protect the next generation of girls and women from harm.
I denounces, in strongest terms, any traditional, cultural or religious justification of FGM, is a crime against women under the law of the Gambia, international human rights law and a serious violation of women’s bodily, sexual and psychological integrity. I refute Imam Fatty’s personal and pseudo religious interpretations of FGM. It is a practice carried out based on cultural non-religious convictions, with no association with religion whatsoever. The practice of FGM is from tribal pre Islamic era. Anyone justifying this practice regardless of their social status and achievements, promote violence against women and male controlling female sexuality is a form of patriarchy, not Islam. Thus FGM is very harmful to women’s health, and anything is Islam that is harmful is in fact prohibited. The prophet (PBUH) said: “let there be no harm upon yourself or others.” Islam would never support anything that harms anybody’s well-being, such as FGM.
Female Genital Mutilation is a violation of girls and women’s rights and is been criminalised by many countries in 2015 including the Gambia. What on earth and why does Imam Fatty want to bring it back? Does he know the pain we went through from the day we were cut to date? How girls died in the hands of cutters? How many women suffered during marriage and childbirth and how many marriages broke because of FGM? No, and he is now trying to make people believe that the practice is a religious obligation and we are not going to tolerate that. Enough is enough, our bodies and rights belong to us and no one else. I am appealing to the female lawyers in the Gambia to bring him to justice and answer our questions.