By Ramatoulie Jawo
Sulayman Saho, the National Assembly Member for Badibou Central, believes that Female Genital Mutilation/Circumcision (FGM/C) should be a matter of individual choice rather than being banned outright.
Hon. Saho made this statement while addressing his fellow National Assembly Members regarding the issue of FGM.
“This is creating discord among those who practice it as a culture and religion. To my opinion, it should be a matter of choice rather than banning the act. Because of the funding being received from the West, if you are with the opinion that it affects the health of women, why not you support them with materials to promote hygiene and sanitation?”
He mentioned that the practice encompasses both cultural and religious aspects and has been observed since time immemorial, passed down from one generation to the next.
“Decades ago, there were activists who launched a campaign against the practice with the support of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO). The advocacy continues to highlight the negative outcomes. But the proponents and those practicing FGM also advanced certain advantages until the former President Alh. Yahya Jammeh made a pronouncement in his hometown Kanilai to ban the practice. The pronouncement was followed by an act or enactment of a legislation by this humble assembly to criminalize the act of FGM” he stated.
He said that the pronouncement was then followed by the enactment of legislation by the National Assembly to criminalize the act of FGM. He said the practice exists in secret and is no longer characterized by cultural displays of song, dance, and traditional dress.
Hon. Saho further told his fellow NAMs that the 1997 Constitution clearly spelled out the right to practice one’s culture and religion. He said these are enshrined in Chapter 17, Subsection 2, and Section 32 of the 1997 Constitution.
“Every person in the Gambia, whatever his or her race, color, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status, shall be entitled to the fundamental human rights and freedoms of the individual contained in this chapter, but subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for the public interest.”
“Chapter 32 also spelled out: Every person shall be entitled to enjoy, practice, profess, maintain, and promote any culture, language, tradition, or religion subject to the terms of this constitution and to the constitution that the rights protected by this section do not impinge on the rights and freedoms of others or the national interest, especially unity,” he stated.
He further emphasized that, based on the aforementioned reference from the 1997 Constitution, it is essential to engage in dialogue on this issue rather than apprehending mothers and sisters for legal proceedings.
He asserted that the nation has a history of stability, and it is incumbent upon all to collectively re-examine the legislation that criminalizes female circumcision.
During the debate, National Assembly members advocated for the reconsideration and repeal of the law prohibiting FGM.