FGM Abolition is not Enough Without Reparation for Victims

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In our society, many women have died as they give birth to life due to complications of FGM. Many homes have become battlefields as husbands despise and torment wives for not meeting their sexual desires due to FGM. Many families have been mired in turmoil as co-wives engage in life and death struggle over husbands who marry more women just to satisfy their lust. Divorces, adultery and sexual promiscuity have become all too frequent due to the prevalence of FGM in many communities and homes.

Above all, FGM has served to tame African women in communities that practice the tradition into absolute submission and disempowerment. Thanks to solemnly controlled secret societies and well stage-managed FGM rites and ceremonies in which young girls are subjected to a series of well calculated and carefully delivered messages, FGM has become an effective socialization program intended to indoctrinate women and girls to a life of subservience in their society. In these societies and ceremonies, our girls and women are taught to be contented being behind boys and men; not to aim high for their world stops in the kitchen and the bedroom, while they are constantly miseducated to belief that women are weak.

Our girls and women are taught in the FGM rites of passage to perceive themselves as objects whose value can only be manifested in how they take care of their bodies in order to satisfy their men folk. Consequently our girls and women have become far more preoccupied about their bodily looks even if they have to paint their bodies and add all sorts of artificial materials on their heads, eyes, lips including piercing their tongue, navel, ears, genitalia and nostrils just to appear like a decorated artifact in service to the desires of boys and men. It is this mindset that forces our women to seek the lighter side of life and be prepared to remain a step behind boys and men. It is such indoctrination, perpetuated by both men and women that give rise to statements such as ‘Ladies First’, which has been erroneously meant to be a compliment. But this is a terrible mindset at the back of which only confirms the persistent indoctrination that girls and women are toys without self esteem whose lives are at the mercy of their male counterparts. This is why FGM serves as an effective exploitative and oppressive tool that does not empower our women to be equal members of society.

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About FGM

FGM is a gross human rights violation meted out to girls and women for centuries. It is neither Islamic nor a good cultural practice. For long though, it has been held, falsely that Islam approves of the practice. Secondly, while it is a fact that FGM is a tradition in many African communities, what is not fully understood or rather ignored is the fact that everything is culture. Human beings have culture, a set of existing yet changing way of life manifesting in practices, values, ceremonies, institutions, laws, materials, relationships, sports, food, dresses among a host of others. Our time and environment play a decisive role in building this way of life to meet our needs as we seek to dominate nature to continue to acquire and perfect a more decent and better way of life.

But in this world of culture, one will notice that there are aspects that empower and liberate individuals and communities, while some aspects also enslave and oppress individuals and communities. Thus there are good and bad cultural values and practices. Secondly in any society, there are always dominant groups who seek to define and establish the prevailing socio-economic and political systems and institutions to serve primarily the dominant class or group. In each home or tribe, as well as in organizations and institutions whether in the public and private sectors or civil society, or in instances of colonialism or foreign domination, one can notice a dominant idea and system to which all conform. In feudal and colonial societies, just as in authoritarian regimes, this dominant idea and system always serve the rulers and the powerful that are connected to them. This is why the fight for self-determination, freedom and democracy has always been imperative by all peoples everywhere in order to bring about a new society founded on the principles of human rights and dignity. Thus FGM, as an oppressive cultural practice is also an idea and a system carved by the dominant class, men with the intention to contain and control the dominated class, women. Thus the fight against FGM is a fight for cultural liberation that ultimately does not only free women, but alongside it also frees men from being oppressors and exploiters, hence the entire society.

It is extremely important that Africans understand the value and role of culture in our lives. Not only our ceremonies, values and practices are cultural, but also even science and technology are aspects of culture. The Internet therefore is not only an information and knowledge production and sharing platform, but more importantly the Internet is a cultural tool just like the balafon or aeroplane or kaftan created for the benefit of society. This is also the reason why anytime an individual or a group dominates another individual or group, their first target is to alienate the dominated from his or her culture, and then impose the culture of the occupying force on the occupied.

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This is because human beings also only think and act within the confines of their culture. Hence if I impose my culture (i.e. my ideas, systems, values, beliefs, materials, etc) on you and managed to get you embrace it, the tendency for you to think and act like me becomes much easier. In that situation therefore the occupied will not anymore resist occupation, rather will become obedient and subject himself or herself to the ideas and systems of the oppressed, hence facilitate his or her own domination. This is exactly what slavery and colonialism succeeded to do to Africans that even up to today, the more an African is educated in Arabic, English or French tends to become more Arab and English than the indigenous owners of these cultural tools, i.e. languages. This is why in the context of FGM, men were able to impose their ideas and systems on women to the extent that the leading exponents and practitioners of female circumcision have been women themselves. For example, I have given up convincing my good old mom that FGM is not only harmful health-wise, but also exploitative and oppressive which is responsible for her disempowerment.

Understanding the Abolition

The Gambia Government is said to be developing a legislation to formalize the banning of FGM in the country. There have been jubilations at the pronouncement of the abolition. However a fundamental question must be asked as to why did it take a government 50 years to ban what is clearly a violation, which poses a clear and direct danger to the lives of girls and women? The pronouncement and the imminent legislation must serve as the beginning of an accountability process to ensure that justice is delivered for the damages done to the health, bodies and dignity of women and girls.

No government can and must claim ignorance on any issue that affects the lives and rights of citizens. That FGM is unhealthy, harmful and non-Islamic is clear. The government has the capacity in all ways to know whether FGM is right or not. It is clear that even without a law banning FGM, the path has been carved for the voluntary abandonment of the practice in the Gambia, sooner or later. The rate and intensity of the campaign by civil society groups including youth organizations have registered tremendous gains that it is clear that many more Gambians are rejecting FGM than embracing it. Coupled with other factors such as education and generally high levels of awareness thanks to a more open world, the move towards voluntary abolition was very assured.

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The question still is why did we wait for so long as a country to ban this harmful practice?

We must recognize that the state has the resources, expertise and mandate to protect the rights of citizens. Thus since gaining independence, FGM like all other harmful traditional practices should have been banned in the country in protection of the rights and dignity of citizens. Section 17 of the 1997 constitution stipulates that the state bears primary responsibility for the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens. Thus the onus to ban FGM lies entirely with the state. It must be noted that the primary function of a state is to create and promote a liberation culture in which citizens enjoy freedoms, sustainable development and quality standard of life. This is why a state collects taxes among other sources of revenue to provide social services such as education, healthcare, good roads and other infrastructure as well as security and all other public goods and services. In providing these social goods and services, the state also makes laws and creates institutions to ensure orderliness, regulate human behavior and operations of businesses and all other aspects of life in that society. It is this process of managing resources and affairs of the society that the state then creates a new culture, hence development. Thus by failing to ban FGM since 1970 when the Gambia became independent, one must therefore hold the state to account for the reasons behind this indecision until now.

Compensation for Victims

In holding the state to account for failing to ban FGM since independence, we must therefore remind everyone that indeed FGM has produced scores of victims. Marriages have been broken by FGM. Homes have been plunged into crisis because of FGM. Lives became horrified and lost because of FGM. Rights and dignity have been bruised because of FGM. What happens now to that 10-year-old girl who was circumcised last year? What about that 35-year-old woman who cannot bear a child anymore after FGM related complications following her two previous deliveries? How about that woman living in torment and daily fights with co-wives, and shunned by her husband because of FGM? These and many more thousands of girls and women are already dead or in our homes, offices, and communities and all over the country. What about them?

I wish to state here that the abolition of FGM is incomplete until the Gambia repairs the damages caused by FGM to our girls and women. The government must open a trust fund to compensate all girls and women who have been subjected to FGM. The FGM bill must make entrenched provisions to set the modalities of this reparation. These girls and women were betrayed by their state that sat idly by to watch their humanity and dignity being marred with impunity. The state must demonstrate responsibility and compassion and ensure that justice is seen to be done for those who were not protected by their chief protector, i.e. the State, but left to suffer irreparably scars of life. We must bear in mind that abolishing FGM is not a charity or a favor provided to our girls and women. It is an obligation that must have been fully fulfilled since 1970. That, we allowed it to persist in the face of overwhelming evidence that the practice is non-Islamic and an oppressive and exploitative cultural tool intended to harm more than half of society is criminal. I demand justice in the name of the victims.

Let justice prevail. Stand for FGM Victims.

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