Introduction To Female Circumcision:
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
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
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 of girls.