President Yahya Jammeh on Monday declared a ban on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), in all its forms. The presidential order comes as a last stroke on the heavily fought practice that is deep-rooted and is practiced by at least 75 per cent of the population.
With presidential elections looming large, how will this decision affect the president’s popularity rating? Information and Communication Minister Sheriff Bojang weighs in on the FGM-or-No FGM debate in a chat with What’s On - Gambia’s Alieu Khan:
What’s On-Gambia: What are your views on President Jammeh's move to ban FGM in The Gambia?
Sheriff: His Excellency, the President made this declaration at about midnight Monday 23 November during the ongoing Meet The People Tour meeting at Kanilai. It came as a total, if very pleasant surprise, to all of us. At the penultimate meeting in Kalagi on Saturday, he did say he was going to make an important announcement. But none of us were expecting anything like this. It’s very progressive and all kudos rightly go to His Excellency for the bold and decisive move.
Do you know the reasons why the president made the unprecedented decision?
He said he’s considered the matter for a sometime and came to the final realization that it is not an Islamic injunction – as in the case of males; and that it is clearly harmful to the health and general wellbeing of women. Therefore, this declaration is in sync with his progressive outlook and as a champion and defender of girls and women’s rights.
What are your thoughts on the argument that FGM is a religious necessity?
I think scholars better versed than my ignorant self in the lores and mores of Islam have clearly shown that the practice is not de jure Islamic. It is rooted not in religion but in traditional culture. Muslim countries like Egypt have banned it since mid-2007 and it is widely frowned upon even in Saudi Arabia.
So what is the way forward now? Given the fact that the cultural shift the ban envisages will be a challenge for many local communities where the practice is deep -rooted.
Societies are dynamic, they change and adapt to the realities of time. And not everyone is going to see His Excellency, the President’s declaration as some sort of a diktat. Actually, a lot of our womenfolk particularly those of a younger age, are opposed to female circumcision. Educators and certain organizations locally and internationally have been fighting it for years and now what is needed is the heavy brawn of the state and that has been provided. His Excellency the President is quite passionate about this matter and you can consider FGM as good as dead in The Gambia from today. Legislation will be instituted in due course and sensitization on the public media will be held.
Won't the ban affect the president's popularity in rural Gambia?
Alieu, President Jammeh is not your typical politician. He’s driven by his conscience and belief and political calculus like you are talking about does not factor in his equation when he’s making real important decisions. He’s the most impolitic or rather unpolitical politician I have ever come across, sometimes I must add, much to our exasperation! (Laughs).
What would you like to tell FGM campaigners like Dr Isatou Touray? Is it true that the ban would not have happened without their undaunted advocacy?
Gamcotrap, Bafrow, Jaha Dukureh and all these people have been on this struggle for donkey’s years. We as a government are going to work with all honest and sincere organisations and individuals with a view to making the lives of our people better.
Any final words, Honourable?
What this declaration pencils, is that His Excellency, the President is a progressive ruler who cares for his people and is not trammeled by negative traditions. This declaration, just like the ones banning gambling and plastic bags, deserve the support and commendation of all well-meaning people. I am the first to congratulate him. I say, thank you blessed Babili Mansa!