Introduction To Female Circumcision:
The controversial practice of genital mutilation or FGM is traditionally
performed on women is widely practiced in Gambia particularly
away from the urban areas and in the up-river rural areas.
FGM is practiced around the world and it is estimated that around
120 million females have had it performed on them. The procedure
though is particularly prevalent in Africa. Female circumcision
has less to do with religion and more to do with African culture
as it is not something prescribed by Islam.
FGM involves the cutting away of parts of the outer female genitalia
and estimated statistics show that approximately 80% of women
have had it performed 1 or 2 years before their teens. The procedure
is also practiced by an estimated 7 out of 9 ethnic
groups in Gambia. As of December 2007 no law prohibits any
form of FGM. Its origins are unknown but female circumcision
is known to have been performed on young girls before the birth
of Islam or Christianity
and cut across cultural and religious lines.
In the Gambia the practice of FGM has traditionally been conducted
in a context of secrecy, and excision is seen as giving power
to girls in their rite of passage
In local villages, instruments used
to perform the procedure are usually not sterile and it is usually
performed by a traditional practitioner with a variety of crude
instruments and without anaesthetic. Often many girls are operated
on during a single ritual ceremony. In these cases the same razor
or knife is often used on a number of girls. Among the wealthier
sections of Gambian society, it may be performed in a health
care facility by qualified health workers.
A Symposium for Religious Leaders and Medical Personnel on FGM
as a Form of Violence was organised by the Inter-African Committee
on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women & Children
of The Gambia (GAMCOTRAP).
The result was the Banjul Declaration of July 22, 1998, which
stated that the practice has neither Christian or Islamic origins
or religious justifications and condemned its continued practice.
In 1996 BAFROW
(Foundation for Research on Women's Health, Productivity &
Development) began working with local communities on an alternative
right of passage project for
girls, commencing with participatory baseline studies focusing
on the Central and Western River Divisions of The Gambia.
The information that was gathered provided data on the prevalence,
nature, justification, and factors contributing to the continuation
of FGM. This information was disseminated among community leaders
who were expected to participate in the creation and delivery
of a new rite of passage. BAFROW also conducted community awareness-raising
initiatives that targeted women, religious leaders, local chiefs,
and religious leaders.
Subsequently BAFROW formed a 30-member advisory committee composed
of community and religious leaders as well as health
workers, traditional circumcisers, and local government officials.
The aim was to develop alternative rites of passage that emphasized
girls’ rights as individuals, their health, religious education
and community responsibilities. After this, 200 religious experts
were gathered from around the Gambia to attended a 2 day workshop
to discuss issues about FGM and religious obligations.
The result was the creation of a committee of religious leaders
to support BAFROW in its efforts. Thirty-five administrative-district-level
chiefs, 50 village heads, and many
local government officials were subsequently invited and attended
a workshop to plan the execution of the alternative method of
rites. Previous circumcisers were trained as village health promoters
and as designated facilitators of the new rite-of-passage with
specially built sites in selected districts where the new rights
of passage would be performed.
Achievements & Statistics:
An analysis of the project's results found a reduction in female
circumcision cases: in Fulladu District, 412 girls were circumcised
in initiation ceremonies in 1996 which fell to 190 girls in 1997.
In Niamina District, 92 girls were cut as part of their initiation
ceremonies in 1996 which fell to 12 girls in 1997. There was also
a change in attitudes held about FGM. After the project 78% of
women surveyed were in favour of FGM abolition, compared to between
30% to 40% in 1996.
Local Contacts Details:
214 Tafsir Demba Mbye Rd.
Tobacco Road Estate, Banjul
P.O. Box 2854
Serrekunda, The Gambia
Tel: +4225270 / 4223471
The Gambia Committee
against Traditional Practices
PO Box 2990
Serrekunda, The Gambia
Types of FGM:
1. Type One:
(Clitoridectomy): This involves the excision (removal) of the
clitoral hood with or without removal of all or part of the clitoris.
2. Type Two:
(Excision): This involves the excision of the clitoris along with
part or all of the labia minora. This is the most widely practiced
form of FGM in Gambia.
3. Type Three:
(Infibulation): This is the removal of part or all of the external
genitalia (clitoris, labia minora and labia majora) and stitching
or narrowing of the vaginal opening, leaving a very small opening,
about the size of a matchstick, to allow for the flow of urine
and menstrual blood. This is performed on only a small number